AEI learns to stop worrying, love the Iranian bomb

Elgaland Vargaland (

Article Highlights

  • Reconciliation with an Iranian bomb is not a good thing, the region will be reshaped by Tehran.

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  • A military attack on Iran will only slow the program down. That may be the least of all evils, but it is no panacea.

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  • If Iran uses or tests its nuclear weapons, there will be no argument about whether they have one or not, what their intentions are, or not.

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Tomorrow, AEI will release a report, “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran,” which I co-authored with my colleagues Tom Donnelly and Maseh Zarif. (It will be live here tomorrow at 9 a.m.) We’ll talk about it at an event on the Hill with Senator Mark Kirk at 10:30 tomorrow morning. In the run-up to the release of the report, which we hope will be a wake-up call about the limits of our ability to contain a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran, we released a video talking a little about the challenges. I dutifully tweeted out a link to the vid, little knowing the ardor of my many, ahem, followers. Here’s what I said:

The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a bomb and testing it. It’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it.

Now, if you have the attention span of a gnat, you would have ended there, and gotten really excited. You might even have tweeted frantically on the topic, with suggestions that AEI had “inadvertently” revealed the truth about the real menace of an Iranian weapon (“regional hegemony”), or if you were really a genius of extrapolation, you might have suggested that I believe that Iran “living peacefully” with the bomb is really America’s biggest problem. As if.

I appreciate the attention. Really. But let’s get the facts straight. In the video, I go on to say:

Because the second that they have one and they don’t do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say “see, we told you Iran was a responsible power. We told you Iran wasn’t getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately. We told you Iran wasn’t seeking regional influence or regional hegemony through its acquisition of nuclear weapons,” and they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.

I’m not sure whether I can find enough words of two syllables to explain this, but read closely and follow along:

•    If Iran uses or tests its nuclear weapons, there will be no argument about whether they have one or not, what their intentions are, or not.

•    If Iran uses a weapon to attack, say, Israel—presumably an undesirable outcome—there will be no question about the need to eliminate Iranian weapons and the regime that holds them. That will be bad, but clear. (See Clinton, Hillary for more comments on same.)

•    If Iran, as many believe, is intent on amassing a second-strike capability and an arsenal of weapons before breaking out of the NPT, the United States and Europe, I suspect, will eventually reconcile to the government of the Islamic Republic with its finger on the nuclear button. The requirements of a serious and successful containment and deterrence strategy will not likely be met by a United States withdrawing from the region and disinvesting in the military.

•    Contrary to popular belief, reconciliation with an Iranian bomb is not a good thing. It means that the region will be reshaped by Tehran (or did you think the Saudis were worried about an Iranian weapon because they fear an attack on Israel? Seriously?) It means the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the region.

•    It means that the option of an Iranian attack on Israel will remain. It also means the option for delivering a warhead as far as Europe or the United States will become reality.

•    It means that Iranian recourse to a counter-attack will be substantial and frightening.

•    It means prospects for a peaceful overthrow of the IRI system will be diminished to almost zero.

These are not good things.

For those who are persuaded my argument is meant to build a foundation for the call to war, now, think again. A military attack on Iran will only slow the program down. That may be the least of all evils, but it is no panacea.

Want to learn more? Read the report tomorrow. Come to the event if you’d like, but register, please.

And thank you all for watching. So flattered.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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