Halting a Chain Reaction

Once shunned by many and feared for its “Three Mile Island Meltdown” potential, atomic energy is enjoying a hearty renaissance — especially in the mid-East. Now that Iran seems intent on going fully nuclear no matter what any other nation may think, and doing so with great bluster and swagger, everybody else in the region wants the same set of toys. But, of course, they are not toys. That this is a highly dangerous development for the world is obvious.
Many of the mid-East states now considering, or out-rightly opting to start up, or add on to their existing atomic activities, insist they only want atomic power for such genteel activities as electricity in homes and industry.

Right now about a dozen Middle Eastern countries are or are about to explore nuclear technology, albeit in varying degrees of intensity. These latest nuclear developments made the lead article of the April 16 New York Times. Re-capping the regional developments, Times reporters William Broad and David Sanger explored this recent rush by the mid-East states to match Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities. We know that in the late seventies and early eighties, Iraq was swiftly developing them, only to be derailed by Israel, which most certainly has them.

What is not as clear is how many other nations in the region are now actively pursuing nuclear programs determined to keep up with Iran. Egypt has done research in the past on acquiring nuclear weapons, and they plan now to resume their work at an accelerated speed, although they claim it is only for development of nuclear “energy.” Turkey is also making moves in the direction of an active nuclear development program. So are Syria and Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Yemen and, most especially, Saudi Arabia.

“The rules have changed,” says King Abdullah II of Jordan. “Everybody’s going for nuclear programs.”

That no other state in the region wants Iran to have weapons that they themselves do not have means an arms race bigger and more dangerous than those we observed in the Cold War. If Iran has weapons, then all the other states want protection from the fanatics who appear to be running the “Peacock” nation. One can hardly begrudge them a defense.  But can we afford to allow them nuclear weapons?  

“One danger of Iran going nuclear has always been that it might provoke others…So when you see the development of nuclear power elsewhere in the region, it’s a cause for some concern,” International Institute for Strategic Studies senior fellow Mark Fitzpatrick said this past week in London.

But hot as the region can be both naturally and politically, Mutual Assured Destruction should be seen for what it is:  an idea utilized in the Cold War and since obsoleted by events. Perhaps it is only evolutionarily correct that the nation of Iran and its neighbors undergo their own sort of Cold War. But, time is certainly going by and the nuclear clocks in those countries are ticking. In short, we really don’t have time to repeat that policy again.

The Cold War…We have already been down that road. Ultimately, what happened is that America undertook the build up of its military on an enormous scale and was then able to overwhelm, by sheer existence, the Soviet Union before war broke out. Since we are a powerful nation devoted to goodness and life in the world, it would behoove us to act when another nation steps out of line as Iran has done repeatedly for many years.

However, simply showing muscle to Iran does not appear to be working. They have thumbed their nose at the international nuclear regulatory bodies, at other surrounding nations and most definitely at us. Indeed they are now engaging our chief ally in the world, Great Britain, through the old games of the Barbary Coast Pirates.

For now, we are letting them get away with it while we search for a “peaceful” solution. But sometimes, as the Israeli’s did in Iraq in the summer of 1981, actions are the clearest language. We hear time and again that it will be at least two years and maybe as long as 10 for Iran to produce an atomic bomb. That doesn’t mean we can afford to do nothing now. We would be infinitely better off dealing with the Iranian Crisis now rather than the almost certain regional crisis that will occur if that nation gains a huge tactical advantage against its neighbors and potentially the world.

In fact, other nations that have a large Sunni Arab base are apparently so worried about Iran that they would, according to Broad and Sanger and other reporters (independent of the Times) “even grudgingly, support a United States military strike against Iran.”

The truth is that if we fail to diplomatically cause Iran to stop its relentless push towards a nuclear bomb, we must be prepared, with the support of the other affected nations, to stop Iran in any way necessary.

At a certain point the collective nations must stick to a demand for inspection and compliance , implementing a definite timetable with a deadline. The alternative, if we continue to do nothing but talk while Iran stalls, is to watch the desire for nuclear arsenals in many countries increase significantly.

As a country striving for peace we should act to stop the dominoes from falling one nation at a time. We can do that best by first continuing to push for as peaceful compliance from Iran with the nuclear inspectors and the will of the United Nations. Second, we can back — not bash — Israel as they seek new peace accords. Third, we must do everything in our power to swiftly stop, or at least slow down, this international nuclear chain reaction.