Sunday, May 08, 2005

What to do about a nuclear Iran?

This story isn't getting nearly enough attention. What will the U.S. do about two emerging threats far more serious than Saddam's Iraq? I've addressed both Iran and North Korea in recent posts (here and here), but here, once again, is Slate's Fred Kaplan, whom I seem to be quoting more than usual these days, likely because he's ever so right about one of the most important issues, if not the most important issue, of the day:

At the [United Nations] general assembly this week, the Iranian delegates have insisted on their rights under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] to enrich uranium—and they are correct. This is a major loophole of the treaty: It allows, even encourages, signatories to develop technology for nuclear energy as long as they forgo nuclear weaponry. The problem is that the technology is the same for both. The Iranians insist they are enriching uranium strictly for peaceful purposes. But they could readily—and legally—go all the way up the line that separates atomic power from atomic weapons; abrogate the treaty; then step over the line and amass an arsenal...

The Iranians say they want enrichment strictly for energy—implausible, given all their oil, which they could extract much more cheaply. Why do they want nuclear weapons? The usual reasons: to deter an attack (from, to name a few, Israel, the United States, perhaps a resurgent Iraq); to provide a cover for their own expansionist aims (if Saddam Hussein had built a few nukes before he invaded Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. and its coalition might have been more reticent in pushing him back); or simply to gain prestige.

So Iran will have nuclear weapons, perhaps, according to Israeli intelligence, by 2008, and something clearly needs to be done about it, as Kaplan indicates. Isn't this a more important issue than, say, the filibuster? Yet we're all so concerned, apparently, about the "nuclear option" in the Senate, where Republicans would do away with the filibuster and allow for judicial nominees to be confirmed by simple majority (50%+1). Sure, I see the importance there, especially if Bush is able to stack the Supreme Court and the federal benches with right-wing activists who will work to dismantle certain of the pillars of the liberal state. (For more on this, see fellow blogger Mark Schmitt's typically insightful comments here, here, and here.) But what about the "nuclear option" that will soon be available to Iran, as it is already to North Korea, and perhaps to al-Qaeda or some other state-less terrorist network? That, to me, is our immediate crisis. If something isn't done about it, there might not be much of a liberal state left to dismantle.

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