This week, once again, the big international news is the continuing progress of Iran’s nuclear program.  It seems fair to assume that the ultimate goal is to create nuclear weapons.  Why else would they risk the inevitably painful economic and political consequences?

Most news stories and magazine articles simply take it as a given that Iran having nuclear weapons is a bad thing.  At one level, of course it is.  No matter how small the chance of any particular government using nuclear weapons is, more countries means a greater chance of some city being devastated.  It may also be that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons will lead other countries in the region to step up their own efforts to counter it.

Some worry the danger of Iran having nuclear weapons is that it might hand off nuclear weapons to international terrorists.  This is specious.  Iran has a functioning state, and no government is likely to hand its most important weapon to a bunch of guys in a cave and tell them to do what they like with it.

Finally, there is the most important argument.  A nuclear Iran would change the balance of power in the region, fundamentally threatening the interests of Israel and the United States in particular, and the other states in the world more generally since everyone is dependent on the oil.

Iran is within range of at least six nuclear states: Israel, America, Pakistan, India, China, and Russia.  Of these, Israel and the United States are implacable enemies.  Both have made multiple military strikes in the Middle East, and each has invaded and occupied another country in the region in the past 25 years.  Pakistan is an unsteady neighbor — a possible threat to become an anti-Shia theocracy at any time.  India, China, and Russia are currently business partners, but none of these connections probably looks too reliable from the Iranian perspective.  How could any Iranian government not pursue nuclear weapons?

The current western solution to the problem is to punish Iran if it doesn’t submit to manifestly inadequate conditions.  This is stupid.  Given Iran’s military position, no punishment is likely to be strong enough.

Another option is to provide some guarantee of Iran’s security, as well as some serious consideration of its demands concerning the regional political order.  This would need to come from the United States, which is clearly the most frighteningly aggressive and hostile threat.  It is also the one power that could ensure that Iran would be safe from the others.  The American government needs to realize that sticks will never work and start offering a whole bunch of carrots.

Otherwise, there will be a nuclear Iran, and the U.S. and Israel will need to learn how to deal with a true regional power unlikely to be very sympathetic to their designs for dominance.  It’s not immediately obvious that this situation would be worse for the locals than what is happening today.  A stalemate of non-interference might be the result.

America needs to decide now which course it prefers.  The current situation is untenable.  Waiting much longer to offer a non-nuclear future will guarantee the opposite.

—Pete DeWan

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