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What would happen if Iran had the bomb? (+video)

Even as Tehran signals an interest in nuclear talks, many experts have already envisioned what the world would look like if the country got nuclear weapons. It wouldn't be as dire as many fear, but it would unleash new uncertainties - and perhaps a regional arms race.

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Chubin states in his book on Iran's nuclear ambitions that "there is no reason to believe that Iran today, any more than Saddam Hussein earlier, would transfer WMD [weapons of mass destruction] technology to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or Hezbollah."

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Likewise, proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, in his 2007 book "Bomb Scare," points out that nations like Iran and North Korea are "not the most likely sources for terrorists since their stockpiles, if any, are small and exceedingly precious, and hence well guarded."

Still, Tehran would revel in some NATO conclusions, especially regarding Iran's proxies: "Israel would have to operate in an uncertain environment, in which the fault lines for escalation would be unknown, and as a result escalation control could be extremely difficult."

The report also predicts that an Iranian bomb "would undoubtedly be a game changer for NATO partnerships," while adding the caveat that "since the dawn of the nuclear age, scenarios of rapid bursts of proliferation ... have abounded but never materialized."

elsewhere across the Persian gulf, an openly nuclear Iran would force reactions from many other countries – most notably among the Sunni sheikhdoms that have long feared Shiite Iran. Saudi Arabian officials have told American diplomats that they might seek nuclear weapons, and King Abdullah has repeatedly encouraged the US to attack Iran – to "cut off the head of the snake," in the words of one ambassador, according to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

Despite these impulses, says Mr. Heinonen, Persian Gulf states would be more likely to follow the model of his native Finland, which in the 1960s served as a businesslike bridge between the Soviet Union and the West.

"From my perspective ... that's what going to happen with Kuwait, Bahrain, [the United Arab] Emirates," says Heinonen. "They will say, 'OK, let's not pick a fight here. After all, we all want to sell oil. There is a Big Brother that's behaving a little bit badly, but let's keep him happy and not antagonize him.' So I don't think a nuclear domino comes here."

Saudi Arabia and Egypt "might think differently," says Heinonen. Either way, the NPT is not likely to collapse.

Such analysis hasn't clouded the dark scenarios of many politicians and pundits, however.

"Over the years [the Americans] developed a whole theology of fear about other countries acquiring nuclear weapons," says Van Creveld, the Israeli historian. "First was the Soviet Union, which we all know was hegemonic and expansionistic and Marxist and Godless, and they didn't like apple pie," he says. "Then it was against England and France, for all kinds of obscure reasons linked with NATO. Then it was Mao Zedong who was going to blow up the world, and then it was us [Israelis] though they never said so publicly. Then India ...

"All these thousands and thousands of [nuclear] warnings which have been issued since 1949, and none ... ever came true."

IN PICTURES: Iran's military might 

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