WITH THE BOMB, RATIONALITY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDERDr. Thomas P.M.Barnett
has long advocated a new detente leading to a " grand bargain" with Iran over its nuclear program to acheive its political and economic reintegration into the world community. This would reestablish the strategic status quo ante that existed prior to the 1979 revolution that destroyed the Shah's modernizing regime and instituted implacable ideological hostility between Teheran and Washington.
The strategic logic and the cost-benefit analysis here has considerable attraction. So much so that, like Tom, I suspected that the Bush administration might try a " Nixon goes to China" manuver, particularly after the productive sub rosa coorperation between the the United States IC and its Iranian counterparts leading up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. However the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the seubsequent power struggle between his ultrahardline faction based primarily in the Pasdaran senior leadership and a minority of senior Ayatollahs to Supreme Guide Khameini's right and the " pragmatists" like Rafsanjani and "reformists" led by Khatami to the Left have effectively paralyzed that option.
I have to disagree with Dr. Barnett here however
:"Where is the history of states acquiring the bomb and then using it irrationally? History has consistently proven just the opposite, even with Islamist regimes like Pakistan and quasi-theocracies like Israel. This is just another example of the sad American tendency to demonize all potential foes as irrational. You take down a country on either side of Iran and they reach for the bomb: who's being irrational or naive on that one?"
The rub here is " use" and " rational".
Yes, the existence of deterrence provided by existing members of the nuclear club has an effect of inhibiting first use nuclear strikes by new nuclear powers. No argument. However there are indirect
as well as direct uses for nuclear arms.
The record of serious miscalculation in non-nuclear domains by nuclear powers brought on by overconfidence provided by ownership of nuclear waepons is both serious and long -- stretching back to 1945. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes began the tradition of overestimating nuclear status when he expected to use America's nuclear monopoly to pressure the Soviets to make diplomatic concessions on a range of geopolitical issues, largely to no effect whatsoever, with the lone exception of (ironically) the evacuation of northern Iran in 1946 which the Soviets had, in principle, previously agreed to do.
Some other examples of nuclear overconfidence or hubris causing negative effects short of WWIII:Stalin, who acquired the bomb in 1949, giving permission to Kim Il-Sung to invade South Korea in 1950.Khrushchev, who acquired not only the hydrogen bomb but crude ICBMs, provoked repeated crisises over Berlin, Cuba and rattled nuclear sabers over Suez.Charles DeGualle whose much longed for Force de Frappe led him to pull France out of NATO's military command, greatly weakening the alliance.China, which had acquired the bomb in 1964, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war with the USSR over a few tiny islands in the Ussuri river inhabited primarily by trees and polar bears.
By my count I see the possession of nuclear weapons leading statesmen to gamble in a way that almost caused a nuclear war at least twice and a serious conventional war at least once ( without even considering the recent history of the Indian subcontinent).
My confidence in the self-restraint of the current President of Iran is several orders of magnitude below that of Nikita Khrushchev.