Start out with an authoritarian regime governed by a “supreme religious leader” and a fanatic president. Add a key geographic position in one of the world’s most volatile regions and an important supply of oil reserves. Don’t forget to mix in proven support for terrorism and clear statements of aggression against neighboring countries. What could top it off better than — nuclear weapons?
It seems ludicrous, but the world appears to be acquiescing to such a situation in Iran. During the past 15 years, the Iranian government has steadily built up the means to acquire nuclear technology and shielded these efforts from international interference. Estimates of Iranian nuclear capability vary somewhat, but a great deal of intelligence data suggests that within the next six months to a year, Iran will reach the “point of no return.” Once past this point, Iran will be able to independently manufacture nuclear weapons. Estimates of how long it would take Iran to acquire its first nuclear bomb vary from 12 months to three years.
Some may ask why Iran should be treated any differently from other countries, such as Israel, that already have declared or undeclared nuclear weapons programs. Others may assume that Iran can be contained, as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. But these people ignore the unique nature of the Iranian regime that makes the prospect of a nuclear Iran especially worrisome.
The Iranian government has, by its words and actions, made it clear that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons in order to defend itself from existential threats, but in order to obliterate and blackmail other nations. Moreover, Iran’s current support for terrorism and its fundamentalist nature cast doubt on the prospects for its containment.
“A world without America … achievable,” ran an Oct. 27, 2005, headline by the state-controlled Iranian Republic News Agency, quoting Iran’s President Ahmadinejad. He has also referred to the Holocaust as “a myth that they call the massacre of the Jews” and suggested Israel be wiped off the map.
Iran’s actions prove that these aren’t merely rhetorical devices intended to maintain the support of the “Arab street.” It is currently funding at least 30,000 insurgents in Iraq. Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group allied with Syria, receives $100 million a year from Iran. The 9/11 Commission found that al-Qaida had a long-standing relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, which included cooperation on terrorist operations. And during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Syria two weeks ago, he met with representatives of 10 different terrorist groups and allegedly gave the nod for the next day’s suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Iran was one of the first countries to congratulate Hamas on its victory in the Palestinian elections last week.
Even if Iran does not immediately detonate a bomb in a Middle Eastern or American city, its newfound influence could destroy any current hopes for peace, democratic reform or improved human rights protection in the region. It will feel no need to change its support for terrorist organizations, brutal legal system and authoritarian government; instead, it will be able to trade dangerous technology and provide financial support to whomever it wants and blackmail other countries to fulfill its demands.
Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology would also trigger an arms race in the Middle East, as other countries would simultaneously feel threatened by Iran and conclude that they could get away with a nuclear program. This would further destabilize the region, causing a tremor whose effects would be felt across the globe.
There are, finally, some efforts to prevent the disastrous results of allowing Iran to acquire nuclear technology. On Thursday, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency will convene an emergency session to discuss referring Iran to the United Nations Security Council for its breaches of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If the referral occurs, the Security Council will have to decide whether to impose sanctions on Iran and, if so, what kinds of sanctions to impose.
Currently, Russia and China are preventing the necessary imposition of a strong set of sanctions, including an oil embargo, by calling for further negotiations and alternative solutions. Because of the lucrative oil and gas contracts each of them has signed with Iran, they are afraid of the price of sanctions. They must be made to understand — either by economic incentives or hard-nosed diplomacy — that the seemingly high price of sanctions would be much lower than the price of Iranian blackmail, destabilization or nuclear war.
The Iranian nuclear menace poses the greatest threat to international peace and security today, and it is imperative for all nations to take strong action to stop it. Ahmadinejad is not a lone lunatic, and relying on America’s ability to contain Iranian nukes means courting a catastrophe we cannot afford.
Rachel Bayefsky-Anand and Ben Bokser are freshmen in Morse College. Both are members of Block the Bomb: Students Against a Nuclear Iran.