Iran May Decide It’s Better Off Without the Bomb

The United States test a nuclear weapon in the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, May 9, 1951
The United States test a nuclear weapon in the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, May 9, 1951 (USG)

It has become the conventional wisdom in Washington and the capitals of Europe that Iran is hellbent on building a nuclear weapon. This may very well be true, despite the nonproliferation efforts by the international community. However, getting its hands on a nuke at all costs may not be the game that Iran is playing. Iran may continue to develop its nuclear weapons capability but stop just short of actually putting together a bomb.

If we assume that Iran’s primary motivation for its nuclear weapons program is regime security, then this would be the best place, strategically speaking, for Iran to be. It would also put the rest of the world, particularly the United States, in an awkward position.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently stated that “by gaining just the capability to build a nuke, Iran can get 95 percent of the benefit with only 5 percent of the blowback.”

Indeed, if Iran tested a nuclear weapon tomorrow, what would be the international reaction? Perhaps just a strongly worded condemnation by the Security Council or perhaps Israel or the United States would attack it. Saudi Arabia might buy a few nukes from Pakistan, sparking a regional nuclear arms race. Russia and China may or may not come to Iran’s diplomatic defense. Maybe nothing would happen at all. Or maybe Iran would be pushed into even greater isolation and economic ruin. It’s hard to say.

It is precisely this uncertainty and unpredictability that gives American foreign policymakers nightmares about a nuclear armed Iran and it is this same uncertainty that may give Iran second thoughts about tightening those last few bolts as well. Read more “Iran May Decide It’s Better Off Without the Bomb”