Nuclear Realities and Iran

- by Troy Pickard

Despite the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran hasn't agreed to dismantle its nuclear program. And, why should it? Even in a worst-case scenario in which it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, it is preposterous to suggest that Iran lacks the same right to "the bomb" now held by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel.

The goal of the IAEA (and of the U.S.) in this case is to prevent nuclear proliferation, a very noble and reasonable goal on its face. Upon closer inspection, however, the benevolence of this goal falls apart. In the 1940s and 50s, when the only two nuclear powers were the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it is commonly accepted that nuclear weapons existed in large part to deter violent conflict between these two superpowers - both sides were quite reluctant to attack one another through either nuclear or conventional means, because each side was capable of delivering an unacceptable level of nuclear retaliation. But, even at this early point in nuclear history, there was an underlying goal that has since become the dominant objective of nuclear non-proliferation, and the main benefit that the U.S. derives from it - the continued ability of nuclear powers to bully and even aggressively attack non-nuclear states with impunity.

Iraq is a perfect example - from this perspective, it is difficult to think that the Bush administration honestly believed that Iraq possessed nuclear (or chemical or biological) weapons, for had that been the case, an invasion of Baghdad would have meant a radioactive Tel Aviv (at the bare minimum). And, speaking of Iraq, who among us doubt Iran's place on the list of countries about to get "the treatment" from the American military (provided that they don't first acquire nuclear capabilities)?

Possession of nuclear weapons effectively precludes a country from facing this type of violent handling and encourages other states to use diplomacy rather than force. North Korea is a case in point. Despite being a far-greater threat to its neighbors than Iraq was, and being ruled by a dictator no less-awful than Saddam Hussein, there is no "Operation Infinite Justice" force massing below the 38th parallel.

So, what does the world expect Iran to do? 600 miles away from over 100 of Israel's not-so-secret nuclear weapons, it is also sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan, two non-nuclear countries now full of U.S. forces that were both invaded and conquered without having so much as raised their voice at the United States. As Bob Dylan sang, and as the Iranians are surely thinking, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Ultimately, the world should indeed be looking toward efforts to ensure peace and adherence to international law. To that end, there may actually be a benefit to some degree of nuclear proliferation: the argument, put forth by Charles Osgood in his 1962 book "An Alternative to War or Surrender," suggests that an atmosphere of tension-reduction, cooperation and good will can be achieved when opposing forces know, among other things, that violent force can be met with nuclear retaliation. In the end, it boils down to one inescapable point. Neither the United States nor any other current nuclear power has the right, or the moral authority, to be the only nuclear shows in town.

Troy Pickard, 22, is a student at the University of San Diego School of Law, where he's starting up a student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. He can be reached at

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