Historian Johnson examines Iran’s nuclear ambitions

The recent Geneva agreement designed to limit Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capability prompts some interesting observations in the latest Forbes magazine from historian Paul Johnson.

Other than such active superpowers as the U.S. and China, it’s hard to think of any country that could be shown to benefit from having a nuclear capability. A possible exception would be Russia. Its 8,500 or so atomic warheads and delivery systems serve to enforce Vladimir Putin’s bullying and muscle-man displays. Other than its wealth in natural energy Russia’s economic power is unimpressive. The country would be better served by investing its resources in its defective infrastructure instead of in maintaining the pretense of being a military superpower. Sadly, such a revolution in global thinking is inconceivable to the blinkered men currently in control. They prefer to retain the means of destroying any country on the planet than to create a truly modern economy that would benefit their people.

Iran wants nuclear weapons for reasons that are closer to metaphysics or theology than strict military policy. Yet there’s one flaw in this argument: If Iran stands to benefit so little from these weapons, why are its two chief enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, so opposed to and horrified by the pact reached in Geneva?

The obvious answer is that because of the geographic concentration of their military, economic and demographic resources both powers (as well as others in the region, notably Qatar) are particularly vulnerable to a single, devastating blow. In terms of practical realities it’s doubtful that Iran could manage to explode a single nuclear weapon in Israeli or Saudi airspace any time in the near future. But Israeli and Saudi military planners can’t afford to make a mistake that could jeopardize their nations’ survival. Iran’s going nuclear is as much a psychological problem as it is a military problem.

What would it take for the Israelis and the Saudis to feel secure? Iran would have to formally renounce its basic foreign policy aims, which include the destruction of the Jewish state and the Sunni kingdom, and demolish all of its nuclear installations, including those relating to purely peaceful energy. That’s a tall order–and one not likely to ever be met. However, both the Israelis and the Saudis are realists and will likely settle for something less than 100% security. A major issue is the Geneva agreement, which is riddled with loopholes that work in Iran’s favor and depends–to an unusual degree in international protocols–on the good faith and personal word of the signatories.

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