Drawing a Bright Redline: Forestalling Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East

By Mark Fitzpatrick

If Iran goes nuclear, so too will more of its neighbors, or so says the established wisdom.

It is a logical deduction given the extent to which Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey feel a need to maintain power and political parity with Iran and the security concerns that Persian Gulf countries already harbor about the would-be regional hegemon to their northeast. If any of them follow Iran or if Israel abandons its policy of nuclear opacity, the domino effect could spread further and include counties, such as Algeria, that have sparked proliferation concerns in the past.

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Marko said...

It is an entirely laudable, indeed necessary, goal to avert further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. A case could be made, however, that some aspects of the argument made here will not avert this. In fact, it may encourage it.

Firstly, the underlying assumption of this article is fallacious on the author’s own terms.

The author clearly puts the framework of rising proliferation concerns within the context of Iran’s enrichment programme. That is, Iran’s Arab neighbours are jittery about Tehran’s enrichment drive, which may lead them to invest in sensitive fuel cycle technologies as a type of security hedge.

But consider the author’s own well known position on Syria’s alleged al-Kibar plutonium production reactor. The author is noted for his readiness to accept that Syria probably has a case to answer, a position which might well be correct.

Let us assume that Syria did try and build a plutonium production reactor.

Did Syria try and do so because Damascus was concerned about the nuclear programme of its ally, Iran? Surely not.

Surely Israeli and US regional strategic postures played a more important role for Syria than any concerns that Damascus might have about Iran.

As the military analyst Lawrence Freedman has pointed out, for good or ill is not the point here, the focus of US military power has shifted from Asia to the Middle East since the 1970s.

The author ultimately concludes that the “United States can reduce the motivations that states in the region might otherwise have to seek a nuclear hedge” by augmenting the security postures of Iran neighbours given their hedge strategy in response to Iran’s enrichment (and IR-40) programme.

If such a thing as the “security dilemma” operates in international relations, as realist analysts tell us it does, then such measures could be interpreted in Iran as signs of hostile intent helping to augment the case of internal pro nuclear weapon lobbies in the Iranian security apparatus. In this way the author’s recommendation may help to further entrench incentives for Iran’s programme, further leading to the observed hedge effect.

Notice that the author’s hedge effect works precisely because it is an instance of the “security dilemma”.

If it is the case that Iran truly seeks a nuclear programme to deter the US and Israel then perhaps the solution would be to re-assure *IRAN* through a comprehensive regional peace that would reduce “the motivations of Iran” which “might otherwise have to seek a nuclear hedge.” This strategy would deal with the underlying cause of concern, unlike the author’s recommendation.

I cannot think of a better example of a policy that would be both moral and of security benefit to all concerned, including the United States.

Anonymous said...

"Treating Iran's enrichment capabilities as equivalent to nuclear weapons status empowers its hard-line leaders and exaggerates the perception of danger among Iran's neighbors, increasing their own security motivations for keeping open a nuclear weapons option."

The nuclear weapon issue does not empower the hard-line leaders - all political entities in Iran support its nuclear program.

Given Ahmadinajad declared intent to "wipe the Zionist entity of the map", no "peace" treaty that Marko proposes, will change his mind and the danger to the region security if he is allowed to continue his clandestine weapon program.

Lincoln Wolfenstein said...

I was disappointed by the article on Iran nuclear weapons by Mark Fitzgerald in the issue of Jan/Feb 2009.

Its analysis simply followed that of the Bush administration. It mentioned in passing that Israel had 200 nuclear weapons but it did not emphasize that it was Israel, not Iran, that introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East. It is Israel, not Iran, that has violated international law with its brutal invasions of Lebanon and Gaza and its use of white phosphorus.

Iran has strong reasons for feeling insecure given its designation by a US president as a member of an axis of evil and given statements of leading Israelis advocating an attack on Iran. Thus it is essential to give assurances to Iran as to its security. There should be a firm statement from the US that under no circumstance would the US attack Iran as long as Iran does not attack another country. Either Europe or Russia should make it clear that there would be a response to an attack on Iran by Israel.

The long-range goal must be a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East. As long as Israel maintains its weapons, even though it has strong security assurances from the US,
there remains the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Lincoln Wolfenstein
Carnegie Mellon University
(Member, US National Academy of Sciences)