North Korea, Iran, and A.Q. Khan amount to a nuclear proliferation crisis for President Obama, New America Foundation President Steve Coll argues in the new issue of The New Yorker--one that Obama has inherited from his predecessor. Coll's idea is that, for nations like Iran and North Korea, the cost of breaking nonproliferation rules has lessened in recent years while the benefit of having nukes has increased. (One reason, according to Coll, is President Bush's invasion of Iraq and doctrine of preemptive war, which, he says, undermined the international treaties and negotiations that predicate the worldwide nonproliferation regime.) As a result, other Middle East nations fearful of Iran have acquired nuclear ambitions of their own--if not to build weapons outright, but to build reactors that would give them the option of weaponizing should the need arise. The trend, Coll, suggest, is toward a Middle East nuclear arms race.
Obama has responded by declaring the U.S. a full-fledged abolitionist during his recent trip abroad, reaffirming the goal of a world without any nukes and condemning the "fatalism" of those who think proliferation can't be stopped. This, Coll says, enhances the U.S.'s negotiating position in nonproliferation talks without really diminishing its military power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also joined a European-led effort to relaunch nuclear talks with Iran. Aggressive diplomacy with Iran carries a risk, Coll says: a bad reaction from the Shi'ite nation and a recalcitrant determination to build weapons. But Obama has to try.