Why you should care

A hot-button debate just heated up again.

Olive branch or artful feint? Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, dropped a couple of bombshells yesterday when he called for an end to all nuclear weapons during a U.N. speech and announced that he wants to end a decades-long dispute over Iran’s own nuclear program within the next three to six months. But even though Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said he wanted to “jump-start” negotiations at his own meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – the first significant sit-down between the two countries in more than 30 years – there was no big breakthrough, although it did cause European diplomats to pronounce themselves optimistic afterward.

Iran has learned that the surest way to become a major player and secure itself from attack is to acquire nuclear capacity.

Nuclear debates have been a hot button for years, and not just with Iran – North Korea says it should have the right to join other nuclear powers, including the United States, Israel and Pakistan. But even as President Rohani appears ready to rethink Iran’s position, undoubtedly anxious to end strict Western sanctions, OZY has a different question: Should the country of more than 75 million people be allowed to have nuclear weapons?

Man working in Iran Nuclear Power Plant

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility outside Isfahan, Iran.

Source Vahid Salemi/AP/Corbis

After all, Iran does live in a dangerous neighborhood. And, as an original member of the “Axis of Evil,” Iran has learned all too well from the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war and the U.S. misadventure in Iraq that the surest way to become a major player in the region and secure itself from attack or invasion by the U.S. or Israel is to acquire nuclear capacity.

So, what distinguishes Iran from other major nations like China, Pakistan, India or Israel that we already accept as having the right to be nuclear powers? Those opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions argue that Tehran cannot be trusted, even with a so-called moderate new leader. But is it enough that Iran is hostile to its enemies and could do bad things? That could be said of most countries. And what if allowing Iran to develop a nuclear capacity actually made the Middle East a safer place? That’s the intriguing position taken by Kenneth Waltz, a respected international relations scholar at both Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, who died in May.

A nuclear Iran would help neutralize Israel’s nuclear monopoly, making the Middle East a more peaceful place via an important strategic check.

Waltz, who spent years studying strategic decisions and researching Iran, was convinced that Iran would act more rationally with the nuclear deterrent in place, and that its regime has no interest in ushering itself out of existence through any ill-tempered nuclear aggression. But Waltz went even further: He argued that power “begs to be balanced” and a nuclear Iran would help neutralize Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the region, paradoxically making the Middle East a more peaceful place via an important strategic check.

Do you agree with Professor Waltz? Or would a nuclear Iran lead to a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Syria and others scrambling to catch up? While yesterday’s historic meeting appeared to go well, “there is a lot of work to be done,” Kerry said afterward. That will give everyone plenty of time to reconsider Waltz’s landmark 1981 “More May Be Better” paper, which concluded, “The measured spread of nuclear weapons is more to be welcomed than feared.”

Comment

OZYPOV

Interviews, op-eds, and analysis to help you make sense of the news of the day and the news of the future.