The Corner

Iran, Implied Threats, and the Balance of Power

In today’s Jerusalem Post, Barry Rubin makes a point that should be elementary in the strategic analysis of the Iran nuclear crisis:

Do you think that anyone will make peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict if they assume – no matter how wrong they turn out to be – that Israel is going to be either erased by Iran’s nuclear weapons, or intimidated into massive unilateral concessions? Do you believe the West will dare act effectively on any regional crisis in the face of Iranian opposition? Will Turkey protest firmly about Iranian involvement in Kurdish or Islamist subversion at home?

This is only the beginning of the problems arising from Iranian possession of nuclear weapons: a bolder, extremist Iran; coercion of the local, relatively more moderate states; a boost for terrorist and revolutionary groups with an upsurge of violence, and intimidation of the West.

And that’s the optimistic scenario, without anyone actually using weapons of mass destruction.

It’s the implied threat of nuclear weapons as counter-deterrent–the menace that Iran might use them if we respond militarily to any conventional Iranian  aggression–which will ruin the strategic balance in the Middle East.  Those experts who think a nuclear Iran can be contained are looking at the wrong threat–and they are conspicuously silent on how to contain Iran now.

Iran’s move to acquire nuclear breakout capabilities is itself a kind of strategic aggression–because it will leave regional security gravely degraded.  This is why the administration’s decision to surge a second U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf is such a relief.  It shows that the administration is serious about maintaining the current balance-of-power in the Gulf, even as it continues playing Model U.N. at the Security Council.  As Vice President Cheney explains in a Newsweek interview:

When we—as the president did, for example, recently—deploy another aircraft carrier task force to the gulf, that sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat.  I’m not going to speculate about security action…. But the fact is we are doing what we can to try to resolve issues such as the nuclear question diplomatically through the United Nations, but we’ve also made it clear that we haven’t taken any options off the table.

Those who warn that a military confrontation with Iran would be a disaster should deliver that warning to the state which seems bent on seeking a confrontation–Iran. 

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a research associate professor and the director of the Environmental Finance and Risk Management Program at Florida International University and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. From 2017 to 2019 he was the associate director for regulatory reform at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


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