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Deterring a Nuclear Iran

HE UNITED STATES, THE EU AND ISRAEL ARE determined to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. If Iran cannot be compelled to abandon its nuclear program through diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, one or more of them may resort to military force. In my view, the threat posed by a nuclear Iran has been greatly exaggerated: Even if Iran does develop nuclear weapons, it can be deterred from ever using them or sharing them with terrorists. Israel is the last nation that should feel threatened by the prospect of Iran's nuclear ambitions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran may deny the Holocaust, but he does not deny that Israel has a nuclear arsenal. Assuming reports of Israel's extensive nuclear capability are true, what would happen if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, using ballistic missiles, aircraft or even terrorist groups to successfully detonate nuclear warheads on Israeli soil? Israel would certainly retaliate against Iran with nuclear weapons, killing millions of Iranians and inflicting catastrophic damage on its economy and environment. Iran certainly does not know where Israel keeps all of its alleged nuclear warheads. Can Iran's military strategists ensure that a first strike would completely destroy Israel's nuclear stockpile? Would they take such a huge risk? All Israel would need is one surviving nuclear bomb to drop on Tehran, where over 6 million Iranians live. For Iran, the gains of launching a nuclear attack on Israel could never outweigh the costs of Israeli reprisals. Despite his anti-Israel and anti-American tirades, President Ahmadinejad is certainly smart enough to recognize this reality. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union both amassed substantial nuclear arsenals. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. Leaders in both countries realized that a nuclear first strike was an uncertain, high-risk gamble that would probably fail to destroy the enemy and remove the threat of a retaliatory strike. They feared that any use of nuclear weapons could trigger a full-scale nuclear war that would likely result in the destruction of both sides and perhaps the extinction of all life on the planet. The idea that such fears would successfully dissuade nations from ever using nuclear weapons became popularly known as mutually assured destruction (MAD) or nuclear deterrence. Although peace and nuclear disarmament advocates continue to scoff at the principle, nuclear deterrence does work. It kept the peace during the Cold War and between other nuclear-armed adversaries. For example, India and Pakistan, which have been at each other's throats since they won independence in 1947, both possess nuclear weapons. Although they came close to nuclear war in 2002, they managed to pull back from the brink and ease tensions, because the consequences of not doing so were so horrific. Some analysts argue that nuclear deterrence will not have any effect on President Ahmadinejad because he is an Islamic fanatic who believes that he will be sent to a glorious after-life if he is killed. But even religious fanatics would not want to see millions of

their fellow believers, including their families, killed in nuclear reprisals, their homelands invaded and occupied by foreign nations, and the exercise and propagation of their faith curtailed by war and its aftermath. Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Tse-Tung of China are two of history's worst mass murderers. Stalin killed tens of millions of his own people and subjugated the nations of Eastern Europe after World War II. In addition to killing tens of millions of his own people, Mao frequently menaced his neighbors, such as India, Taiwan and the Soviet Union. His apocalyptic rhetoric, predicting the defeat of capitalism in an eventual all-out war with socialism, frightened many, including the KAT^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Soviets. Both Stalin and Mao had nuclear weapons. Yet neither dictator ever used them because they feared the inevitable consequences. Are we to believe that President Ahmadinejad is more evil, dangerous or unstable than Stalin or Mao? French President Charles de Gaulle's 1968 dictum, "No country without an atomic bomb could properly consider itself independent," still resonates today. Despite international efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, it seems likely that nations in every part of the world will continue to seek nuclear weapons in order to boost their international prestige, enhance their security or menace their adversaries. The U.S., Israel and the EU can protect themselves by strengthening their deterrent capabilities and reminding unfriendly states that may join the nuclear club in the future that they will face immediate nuclear reprisals if they ever use nuclear weapons or share them with terrorists. In the case of Iran, deterrence is certainly preferable to another war. Dimitri Cavalli is a freelance editor and writer based in New York City.