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June 21, 2012

Kenneth Waltz Thinks Iranian Acquisition of Nukes is a Good Thing

Dr. Strangelove with caption.JPG
President to the Russian Ambassador: Now then Dimitri. You know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little... funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. ... (listens) ... Well, I'll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes... to attack your country. (Excerpt from Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

USA Today published an Op-Ed on Monday, June 18 by Kenneth Waltz arguing that "a nuclear-armed Iran would probably be the best possible result of the standoff and the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East."

Some excerpts present Waltz's logic. He offers three possibilities for how the current Iranian nuclear crisis could end:
1) Diplomacy and sanctions convince Iran to give up pursuit of nuclear weapons.
2) Iran doesn't test a weaon, but develops the capacity to build one.
3) Iran builds a weapon and tests it.

Waltz likes option 3 and he tells us why.

First, Waltz dismisses U.S. and Israeli concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons as "typical of major powers, which have historically gotten riled up whenever another country begins to develop a nuclear weapon."

Second, he claims Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons "has long fueled regional instability... It is Israel's nuclear arsenal, not Iran's desire for one, that has contributed most to the crisis." Waltz is mistaken, Israel's alleged nuclear capacity has not spurred its long-time adversaries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to develop nuclear weapons. But the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons has.

Third, Waltz asserts, "the danger of a nuclear Iran has been grossly exaggerated due to fundamental misunderstandings of how states generally behave in the international system." Thanks. Feeling better? Waltz's analysis may hinge on the observation that the huge arsenals possessed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union dissuaded both powers from using their weapons against the other. Waltz apparently believes the same rational behavior can be expected from Iran.

A few commentators have already weighed in. Gary Schmitt, former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wonders "Maybe we could even begin handing out nukes on the street corner. By Waltz’s logic, it’s likely to reduce crime as well."

Ira Stoll at Commentary focuses in on Waltz's smug reliance on "probably" and "likely" when figuring the odds that Iran will act rationally and not launch a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv or New York. What if Waltz is wrong? What if the Iranians really mean it when they say they want to erase Israel from the map?

That is no big deal for Waltz, like betting on the wrong horse. But it is a serious problem for the residents of Tel Aviv. What odds can they tolerate?

While it may be tempting to parody Waltz's lack of concern over Iranian nuclear weapons, it is sobering to recognize that Waltz is a professor at Columbia University and that Foreign Affairs, a serious publication, has published an expanded version of the USA Today Op-Ed in its July-August 2012 issue.

As an analyst of the Iranian nuclear crisis, Waltz reveals himself to be a fantasist. He concludes with the assertion that "citizens worldwide should take comfort from the fact that where nuclear capabilities have emerged, so, too, has stability. When it comes to nuclear weapons, now as ever, more could be better."

Dr. Strangelove couldn't have said it better.

Posted by SS at June 21, 2012 04:03 PM

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