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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stop worrying and love the bomb

I really enjoy reading foreign policy op-ed pieces authored by realist scholars of international relations.

Then again, who doesn't love contrarian thinkers?

February 27, Barry Posen published the latest provocative op-ed piece, "We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran," in the New York Times:
An Iranian nuclear arsenal, policymakers fear, could touch off a regional arms race while emboldening Tehran to undertake aggressive, even reckless, actions.

But these outcomes are not inevitable, nor are they beyond the capacity of the United States and its allies to defuse. Indeed, while it's seldom a positive thing when a new nuclear power emerges, there is reason to believe that we could readily manage a nuclear Iran.
Actually, this editorial is fairly tame by realist standards.

Here are the opening lines from a press release issued three years ago today by Columbia University, which was entitled, "Spread of Nuclear Weapons Nothing to Fear, Says Waltz":
It does not matter if Iraq and North Korea possess or develop weapons of mass destruction, according to Kenneth Waltz, adjunct professor of political science and senior research scholar in the Institute of War and Peace. Nuclear deterrence, he says, will prevent either country from ever using them.
Similarly, John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt argued in advance of the war with Iraq that the US could easily deter even a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein:
In fact, the historical record shows that the United States can contain Iraq effectively - even if Saddam has nuclear weapons - just as it contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Mearsheimer wrote these words in Foreign Affairs Summer 1993:
The conventional wisdom about Ukraine's nuclear weapons is wrong. In fact, as soon as it declared independence, Ukraine should have been quietly encouraged to fashion its own nuclear deterrent.
In August 1990, Mearsheimer published these words in The Atlantic:
the United States should encourage the limited and carefully managed proliferation of nuclear weapons in Europe. The best hope for avoiding war in post-Cold War Europe is nuclear deterrence; hence some nuclear proliferation is necessary, to compensate for the withdrawal of the Soviet and American nuclear arsenals from Central Europe. Ideally, as I have argued, nuclear weapons would spread to Germany but to no other state.
If you haven't seen "Dr. Strangelove," do yourself a favor and rent it this weekend.

3/3/06 Update: How could I forget Pakistan and India? Mearsheimer, May 29, 1998, on "PBS Newshour":
I think once the two sides develop rather robust and large nuclear deterrence that you'll have a relatively stable situation, much like you had between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War....The fact of the matter is that nuclear weapons are an excellent deterrent. And for a country that feels threatened, especially by a neighbor that has nuclear weapons, it's not very likely that that country is going to shoot nuclear weapons.
Mearsheimer acknowledged an elevated risk of war in the early stages of their proliferation since they had small deterrent forces with imperfect command and control. Of course, he also advocated that the US provide them with various kinds of technology to secure their nuclear forces.

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