They’re at it again. Those uppity Middle Easterners are once again trying their hand at going nuclear. Will they never learn? So once more it falls to the upstanding, responsible and peaceloving states of the West to watch over the rogue, irrational upstarts, for their own good and for the stability of the region. Quite simply, it’s inconceivable that world leaders could sit by and say nothing about the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a major state in such a volatile region, one which has a proven track record of intransigence and stirring up armed conflict, with a significant current of far-right and religious nationalist ideology in both its society and its political elite.
No, wait – hang on…
Maybe I’m the only one to whom this seems just the teensiest bit hypocritical. I suspect, however, that there are others who have been thinking along similar lines. Not, of course, that anyone should be surprised by this – Western hypocrisy in the Middle East is nothing new (or, as Obama et al would probably prefer to term it, ‘pragmatism’). But opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions is neither moral nor good for the stability in the region – in fact, it is quite the opposite. A non-nuclear Iran presents a number of advantages to Western states, summed up in the unhindered ability of Saudi Arabia and Israel to dominate the region. However, Western advantage is not necessarily the advantage of Middle Easterners, or the advantage of humanity in general.
The most general reason many might give for opposing an Iranian bomb is that the Iranian leadership cannot be trusted. They are rogue. Listen to their rhetoric. They can’t be trusted not to strike against Western interests. This is a somewhat over-simplistic way of viewing the Iranian regime. Certainly, Iranian leaders loudly and roundly condemn the West publicly on regular occasions. Without ignoring or dismissing these statements, it is worth remembering that to a significant degree the Khamenei regime gets its legitimacy from opposition to the West, so it might be over-optimistic to read too much into such statements. The elites of Iran may be anti-secular, dictatorial, conservative, but they are not stupid. In general, Iranian foreign policy has shown itself to be above all other things pragmatic and realist – witness the early-days support for American action in Afghanistan. Is it really likely that as soon as the bomb is built, Iran suddenly decides it’s going to threaten the Israelis with total destruction if they don’t allow every single Palestinian to have their land back?
Well, frankly that wouldn’t be in Iran’s interest. It would be far too risky and besides, the Iranian regime makes good use of having a handy enemy in the form of the ‘Zionist entity’. Ahmedinejad will think long and hard before sacrificing his country to help a far-off people with inconsequential military power and little strategic value. What is more likely is that the primary result of Iran having a bomb is that Israel is deterred from attacking Iran. This is not ‘less stability’ in the Middle East – it is just stability that is less beneficial to the West.
Ultimately, of course, opposition to Iranian nukes comes back to Israel, and the insecurity that it would engender upon them. Whilst it is important to recognise what legitimate security concerns Israel has, allowing Israel to swap diplomacy and concessions for unassailed military predominance is counter-productive, immoral, and ultimately impossible to sustain.