Would a nuclear-armed Iran really be so dangerous?
Advocates of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities assume that a nuclear-armed Iran would be able to blackmail its neighbors. History suggests that's wrong.
Washington and Charlottesvile, Va.
One of the biggest surprises to emerge from the ongoing WikiLeaks fiasco is that Arab leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah, have been banging the drums of war, calling for American preventive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Yet calls for military force are based on incorrect assertions about what the world would look like if Iran built nuclear weapons.Skip to next paragraph
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Advocates of the military option routinely make two claims. The first is that a nuclear-armed Iran would be able to blackmail its neighbors. The second is that other countries would be forced to capitulate to Iran’s demands. Both assumptions are wrong.
Nukes and threats: what history shows
A close look at the history of the nuclear age shows that countries with nuclear weapons are neither more likely to make coercive threats nor more likely to succeed in blackmailing their adversaries. Nuclear powers such as the United States and the Soviet Union certainly made numerous threats after they acquired nuclear weapons. But so did Libya, Serbia, Turkey, Iraq, Venezuela, and dozens of other countries that did not possess the bomb. Nuclear weapons are not a prerequisite for engaging in military blackmail.
Further, there is scant evidence that possessing the bomb makes coercive threats more successful when they are made. Nuclear weapons did not help the United States compel North Korea to release the USS Pueblo and its crew in 1968. Israeli coercive threats backed by the implicit threat of nuclear war failed against Syria prior to the 1982 Lebanon War, just as British threats against Argentina in 1982 were unable to compel the return of the Falkland Islands, despite Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons.