Monday, October 08, 2012

A Moral Case for a Nuclear Iran

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities has been a hot topic for some time, and has become rather scorching more recently. Strong arguments for and against a possible preventive strike against Iran have been made. As tensions rise between the U.S. and Israel over whether and when to take military action, the U.S. must decide the best course of action for the near and long term. There exists a common view among theorists and experts that a nuclear Iran cannot be contained; therefore, a preventive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is necessary to keep Iran from waging nuclear against its neighbors, particularly Israel . Yet others theorize that, since deterrence has maintained peace among nuclear nations over the last six decades, the same will apply to Iran, as Iran’s nuclear capability will then create a balance of power between Israel and Iran.  Still others suggest that the only way to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is for the U.S. to engage in a full-scale invasion and occupation of Iran. Although all three of these options have been examined in short/long term perspectives and in economic and military costs and benefits, very little has been examined from a moral perspective.

Author Michael Walzer warns that there is potential for an initial aggression to be followed by continuous escalation on both sides, resulting in increasing ruthlessness and destruction. He further argues that the initial aggression is an immoral act, quoting Karl von Clausewitz as saying, “The aggressor is responsible for all the fighting he begins” (Walzer 1977, Chpt. 2). With this concept as the premise for analyzing each of the three options, we can determine that the options of invasion/occupation and pre-emptive strike should be considered immoral, and that the option of allowing Iran to become a nuclear power, and relying on time-tested deterrence for maintaining peace is the only moral option.

The two options of a preventive strike and invasion/occupation place the U.S. in a position of being an aggressor against Iran, since Iran has not taken aggressive action against any other state, nor has it threatened to do so. The option of preventive strike can be considered immoral for two reasons. First, it relies on the argument that a preventive strike causes destruction which produces peace.  However, that argument only holds if the strike results in ultimate destruction. In the case of Iran, reports indicate that a preventive strike will only delay, not stop, their nuclear development by up to four years.  Without the ability to completely destroy Iran’s chances of obtaining nuclear power, a preventive strike only will set the stage for resistance and escalating violence, as it will interrupt the existing peace, result in immediate casualties, and cause anger and embarrassment for Iran, which will likely lead to retaliatory action from Iran, and possibly terrorist groups.

Second, the Iranian regime has stated that they have no intention of developing nuclear weapons. They maintain that they are interested in developing nuclear power in order to diversify their energy sources, fearing their oil fields will eventually be depleted, and to keep up with their booming population and rapidly-industrializing nation. These claims have been backed by a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq and other experts. As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they understand that they would be in violation of the treaty if their nuclear development were for anything other than the generation of nuclear power. Furthermore, the theocratic regime has firmly stated that the development of nuclear weapons would be against Islamic religious principles. Lacking any proof or evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, much less threatening to use them, a preventive strike as a strategic decision could still be judged as immoral.
Many experts agree that a preventive attack would give Iran a reason to build a nuclear weapon, if only to inhibit future attacks and to save face. They argue that in order for any military campaign to be effective in keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear power is to remove the current Iranian regime with a full-scale invasion and maintain U.S. occupation. Iran would view an invasion/occupation as a tyrannical U.S. aggression which justifies forceful resistance.  Again, any retaliation from Iran could lead to escalating violence of both states, and possibly others. This initial, unprovoked U.S. aggression in both options would be considered immoral, due to the escalating violence that would ensue.

From a moral perspective, the only available option is to allow Iran to continue the development of its nuclear program, and continue to engage in negotiations in relation to inspections and compliance with the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  

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