Today's Bomb-Iran Reading List

By James Fallows

1) The weakest case anyone has made in public for going to war, from a celebrity professor. Reflect upon this being published in a leading magazine.

2) Historical analysis worth reflecting on (including the comments), from a less publicly-known professor who makes a more serious contribution. This essay, by James Fearon of Stanford, argues that today's existing nuclear powers have, overall, been less militarily aggressive after acquiring nuclear weapons than they were beforehand. One of his sample charts:
NukesFearon.jpeg


Fearon is obviously not contending that such correlations prove cause-and-effect, and he is not complacent about the possible consequences of Iran's getting the bomb. But he addresses one crucial part of the argument for pre-emptive strikes on Iran: that, if its regime had control of nuclear weapons, it might behave in an "irrational," necessarily suicidal, non-"deterrable" way, unlike the other nine countries that have had nuclear weapons. That is: Iran will be "different," or more precisely that Israel and the United States cannot tolerate the risk that it might be different. A sample of his case:
The fact that the other members of the nuclear club generally didn't get much more aggressive in their foreign policy behavior after they tested [nuclear weapons] doesn't mean that Iran won't.  But I think it's astonishing how weak a case for this we are hearing from the preventive war advocates...

To be clear, I'd strongly prefer that the Iranian regime not get the bomb, mainly because of the risks of further proliferation in the region and attendant risks of preventive war and loss of control of weapons.  But attacking Iran seems likely to guarantee pursuit till acquisition, to more effectively license future attacks on Israel, and to greatly increase popular support for the current Iranian regime and a course of nuclear self-defense.
Very much worth reading, and comparing closely with dashed-off cases for war like the other article. Especially in light of the recent statement from the U.S. intelligence community that they are not sure that Iran is even trying to build a bomb.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/02/todays-bomb-iran-reading-list/252619/