Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nuclear capability vs having a nuclear weapon: What is really the problem?

When Iran has the capability to produce nuclear weapons, it is legally in the same category as Japan, the Netherlands and many other countries. Iran would get strategic benefits from this, but these are legal benefits that Iran expected to have access to when it ratified the NPT.

Israel's strategists believe Iran will hold "all the cards"
if it has enough material to make several weapons even it it upholds its NPT obligation to refrain from actually building weapons.
The question whether Iran will have nuclear weapons in 2012 or 2014 is simplistic. If Iran really wants to, it will have nuclear weapons next summer. But Iran is aware that running helter-skelter to the nuclear bomb is very risky. So it is building its nuclear potential gradually. When the number of centrifuges in Natanz is not 7,000 but 30,000, Iran will be unstoppable. When it has enough fissile material for a dozen bombs, it will hold all the cards.
If this causes Egypt to build a comparable program, and Turkey and some Gulf princelets to follow that path, this is not, except because of Israel's special needs, more provocative than the many countries of Europe each capable of building weapons, or of the situation in South America where many countries could build weapons.

Israel imposes a unique strategic burden on the United States. Israel could not survive if instead of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its neighbors were more like Brazil, Argentina and Chile. So the United States, in order to keep the region safe for Israel, must make increasingly desperate attempts to prevent Iran from taking the role of Brazil in its region.

Iran becoming nuclear capable likely would trigger an arms race, if by "arms race" you mean a move to a new equilibrium where NPT non-weapon states in the region each gain the capability to produce nuclear material, but each does not. Kind of an "arms race" minus the "arms". In this new equilibrium the nuclear capable nations would not be a threat to each other, but would mark an important strategic loss for Israel which currently has a monopoly of nuclear weapons and of nuclear capability.

Nearly every non-Jewish person in the region believes that the creation of Israel was an injustice and while Israel has been fortunate to have weak and corrupt immediate neighbors, Iran becoming nuclear capable is the first step towards Israel losing the luxury of being surrounded by impotent neighbors.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have recently said that regional trends are very negative for Israel's prospects of long term survival. This is one of the things they were talking about.

Barack Obama, NPR interview - June 1, 2009:

I believe that, strategically, the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israeli security; that, over time, in the absence of peace with the Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems along its borders.

Hillary Clinton, CNN interview - June 7, 2009:

We see historical, demographic, political, technological trends that are very troubling as to Israel's future. At the same time, there is a legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people that needs to be addressed.

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