Hush Now, Mitt: A Nuclear Iran Is Not the World's Greatest Threat

Three-quarters of national security experts polled disagreed with the candidate.

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Three-quarters of National Journal's National Security Insiders disagreed with a recent statement by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said a nuclear Iran represents the greatest threat to the world.

If Tehran acquires a nuclear weapon, Romney told Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, it would pose the most serious threat to the world, to the United States and to Israel's existence.

Not so, said 73 percent of NJ's pool of national-security experts, even as they acknowledged that a nuclear Iran could have a destabilizing effect on the Middle East and erode international nonproliferation efforts. "It would be an unmitigated negative for U.S. interests," one Insider said. "But it is not the greatest security threat facing the U.S. or the world at large."

If Iran -- or any other country with money -- truly wants to go nuclear, another Insider said, there is not a whole lot the world can do to stop it. "Making such comments reduces your maneuver room when Iran actually gets close to going hot, makes you look impotent when they do, and blinds us to other challenges (e.g., a rising or failing China, Pakistan imploding, etc)," one Insider said.

Individual nukes rank behind several other threats, including cyberthreats, another Insider said. "Coupled with its aggressive ideology, Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a greatly heightened danger to others. But so would other potential scenarios: the collapse of authority in Pakistan that undermined the security of its nuclear weapons, Pakistani aggression against India that risked escalate to nuclear war (feared in their 2001-2002 crisis), or unstable disintegration of authority in North Korea or spasmodic acts by its leaders in a crisis," another Insider said. Others said that climate change, or the "invasive species known as Man," rank as bigger threats.

One Insider cited Israel itself, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, as a greater threat. "The greatest threat to the world is clearly nuclear-armed Israel with its almost daily threats to launch an attack on Iran, inevitably involving the U.S. in a potentially catastrophic Middle East war," the Insider said. "Continually threatened by Israel, with its 200+ nuclear weapons, and with nuclear-armed neighbors -- American allies Pakistan and India -- Iran has every reason to arm itself in equal measure, although U.S. intelligence believes it has not yet decided to do so." The best way to stop Iran from going nuclear is to turn the entire region into a nuclear-free zone, starting with Israel which never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Insider said.

Another Insider agreed that Iran is not the world's biggest threat but cautioned against making the "mistake" of pinning concerns on Israel. "A nuclear Iran is not THE greatest threat, but it is still a major threat.... A nuclear capable Iran would be a major threat to the Gulf, to South Asia, and to regional stability."

Twenty-seven percent of Insiders did agree with Romney's assessment. "A nuclear Iran is certainly one of the most immediate threats to the U.S. from a national security and economic security standpoint," one Insider said. "A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians would be tremendously destabilizing to the Middle East and could tempt the Iranians into closing the Strait of Hormuz, thus provoking a U.S. reaction in an effort to re-open it."

Presented by

Sara Sorcher a staff reporter (national security and foreign policy) for National Journal.

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