The Official Home Of America's Top Faculty™
By: Christina Lamb
A LEADING US foreign policy expert has suggested Iran should be allowed to develop atomic weapons amid growing frustration at the failure of efforts to persuade it to halt its nuclear program.
Kenneth Waltz, a professor at Columbia University in New York and at the University of California at Berkeley, has long advocated the view nuclear weapons bring stability to the world, acting as a deterrent to war.
But eyebrows were raised when his provocative essay - "Why Iran should get the bomb" - appeared as the cover story in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, long seen as an influential establishment journal.
This week the US congress will vote to tighten dramatically economic sanctions on Iran amid growing impatience at the failure of President Barack Obama's administration to halt Tehran's nuclear program.
A leaked Pentagon assessment has warned Iran continued to "make large strides" and could be just three years from testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking US soil. "The threat from Iran is real," John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, said.
Professor Waltz insists that "the danger of a nuclear Iran has been grossly exaggerated" and argues allowing Iran to go nuclear "would probably be the best possible result; the one most likely to restore stability to the Middle East".
He claims Iran's leaders are not irrational, as often portrayed, and that far from being emboldened they would be less bellicose if they acquired nuclear weapons for fear of sparking a nuclear conflict.
Professor Waltz cited as an example long-time enemies India and Pakistan, which fought three wars prior to acquiring the bomb but had "both become more cautious since going nuclear".
He also rejected the argument that if Iran obtained nuclear weapons a regional arms race would follow, with Saudi Arabia seeking the bomb. When Israel acquired its bomb in the 1960s, he said, it did not trigger an escalation even though it was at war with many neighbours.
It is a view with few supporters in Washington.
"If Ken Waltz were a democracy activist living in Tehran or a mother of three living in Tel Aviv or Abu Dhabi he'd probably think differently about the prudence of an Iranian bomb," said Karim Sadjadpour, Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He has the luxury of theorising from thousands of miles away."
Michael Singh, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, another foreign policy think tank, pointed out that the Saudis had said explicitly they would pursue a nuclear weapons program if Iran acquired one.
He also rejected the South Asian example, pointing out that the bomb, far from having restrained Pakistan, appeared to have emboldened it to support terror attacks in India.
Although Iran has repeatedly declared that its nuclear program is peaceful and it has no intention of producing nuclear weapons, it is enriching uranium to higher levels.
Most experts believe Iran has not yet made a decision on whether to go ahead and is 12-18 months away from a bomb were it to decide to pursue that option.