Five reasons to attack Iran

Iran continues to make steady progress on its nuclear program. The international community, led by the United States, is imposing increasingly tough sanctions on Tehran, including a European ban on oil imports from Iran. The world should hope that Iran will negotiate away its uranium enrichment program, but that's highly unlikely, says Matthew Kroenig, a Stanton Nuclear Security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And so, in the coming months, Washington might be forced to choose between simply letting Iran have nuclear weapons or conducting a military strike designed to prevent that from happening. Mr. Kroenig believes the options are awful, but here gives five reasons why, if faced with that decision, the US should strike.

This article has been adapted from an essay in the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

1. A nuclear-armed Iran poses a grave threat to international peace and security

REUTERS/US Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric S. Powell/Handout
The USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Indian Ocean Jan. 18. The aircraft carrier sailed through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Persian Gulf without incident a day after Iran backed away from an earlier threat to take action if an American carrier returned to the strategic waterway.

Iran currently restrains its foreign policy because it fears US and Israeli retaliation. With nuclear weapons, Tehran will be emboldened by the confidence that it can engage in provocation and use its nuclear weapons to deter the worst forms of retaliation. A more aggressive Iran will increase its support to terrorists and engage in tougher coercive diplomacy.

Nuclear weapons in Tehran will cause global nuclear proliferation, as other states in the Middle East seek their own nuclear weapons in response, and as Iran provides uranium enrichment technology to US enemies. The global nonproliferation regime would be weakened.

A nuclear Iran could threaten nuclear war to stop developments contrary to its interests, giving the world a nuclear scare every few years. And given that the nuclear balance between Iran and its adversaries would be less stable than the one that held between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war, these future crises could very well spiral out of control resulting in a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel or even Iran and the United States.

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