I Ran Out For Nukes, Be Back in a Sec...
While Bush dawdles, the supposedly ineffectual European Union, consisting of those "Old Europe" stalwarts France and Germany has stepped in to convinced the government in Iran to voluntarily give up its nuclear ambitions. The deal has flaws, yes. It covers only nuke sites that the world knows about, so Iran might be secretly breaking the agreement as we speak, but, it's more than we've done.
Now for a standard disclaimer: The Iranian government is bad. It mistreats its people, it has fought horrid wars with its neighbors and it's somewhat hostile to America. So, without defending the Iranian government in any way, I have to say that I don't blame them for wanting nukes and I don't think we (including Europe) have a moral leg to stand on in demanding that they not pursue their research.
For one thing, we have tons of nukes and are currently working to develop "low yield" warheads that can actually be used in conventional conflicts. If we're escalating, why shouldn't Iran? I described their government as "somewhat hostile to America" which was an understatement, but how do you think they describe our government? I assume that understated Iranians would say, "somewhat hostile to Iran."
Iran certainly has rational incentives to want these weapons. One was that, while Saddam was in power, Iran and Iraq, who had fought an 8 year war during the 80s, were in an arms race with one another. Remember that, according to CIA Analyst Charles Duelfer, Saddam wanted to appear to have a Weapons of Mass Destruction program in order to intimidate Iran. If Iran believed Saddam's ruse, what would their logical response be?
Around the time that we deposed Saddam and removed that threat for Iran, we were also pointedly NOT deposing Kim Jong Il of North Korea. He has, according to some, now built half a dozen atom bombs. Perhaps Iran learned that having nukes could act as a deterrent to US adventurism? It would be a logical conclusion.
Here's another recent history lesson: Pakistan has nukes. For some reason that fact never spurred us to action against its backwards government. Perhaps Iran learned from that example too?
Finally, we get to the bottom line argument about proliferation and nuclear technology -- it can't be stopped. Nuclear physics is just that, physics. It's as fundamental to the world we live in as Newtonian physics or relativity. People will figure it out, inevitably. They can be slowed down. They can be encouraged to not use the science to make weapons, but only Heisenberg's uncertainty can stop people from figuring out the fundamentals of the atom.
Science has proven over and over again that it can't be stopped.
So, what to do? We can try to make Iran feel less threatened, so that they devote their research to peaceful, rather than military ends. The drawback is that, as I said before, the Iranian government is full of bad guys. Really bad guys. Do we want to be cozy with them? Is that the right thing to do? I have more questions than answers.
I do know this -- we will inevitably find ourselves in a situation where an enemy state has atomic weapon capability and the situation is bound to not be so neat and clean as it was when the US and Russia kept each other locked in a tense balance for fifty years.
We can thank Europe for scrambling to engage and persuade the Iranians while we muck around in Iraq. We can hope that engagement with other countries will deter nuclear ambitions in the future.
Most importantly, I think, we have to not keep the world in such a state of fear that they feel building these weapons is their only hope for security from us. That won't work every time. Someday, we will have to deal with new nuclear enemy. But, I think we can put that day off for a long time by signaling the world to be at ease -- which is something we haven't done since 9-11.
Imperfect, I know. But it seems like proliferation has accelerated in tandem with US aggression. Can't be a coincidence.