OP-ED: Options to Prevent a Nuclear Armed Iran

By Louis Kriesberg
Louis Kriesberg
Louis Kriesberg

Determining U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear programs should begin with considering the way the Iranian leadership and people regard their effort to develop nuclear power and nuclear weapons.  The current leadership wants to remain in power, but they differ about how that is best accomplished. 


Ahmadinejad does not determine policy.  To what extent it is ultimately shaped by Ayatollah Khamenei or by the high military leaders is widely debated.  There is also widespread Iranian disaffection with the ruling regime.  The U.S. should be wary of unifying the divergent groups within the country.


It is safe to believe that the major purpose of the Iranian leaders is to maintain themselves in power and to play an important regional role.  Having nuclear weapons can reasonably be considered as necessary to avoid efforts to overthrow them.  They may see what happened in Libya compared to the survival of the regime in North Korea.  


Coercive sanctions alone will not suffice for the U.S. government to halt Iran’s progress toward producing nuclear weapons and the means to employ them.  Even a military strike would only delay such programs and unleash terrible reactions.  Current sanctions need to be accompanied by reassurances to Iranian leaders that not having nuclear weapons would notopen them up to attacks and to efforts to overthrow them.  They are already close to having the capacity to build nuclear weapons, but not close to being able to employ them.  In any case, they will forever be extremely unlikely to use them to initiate a war, attack Israel or risk passing on any capability to external organizations they cannot control.   Such actions, they know, would be utterly self-destructive.


There are realistic reasons the region and the world would be much better off if Iran did not possess nuclear weapons.  Its possession of such weapons may result in other countries in the region developing nuclear weapons, further increasing the risks of nuclear accidents, military attacks, and even wars.  The economic burdens of financing nuclear arms races would further damage the well-being of the peoples in the Middle East.


The U.S. can take steps that will induce the Iranian leaders to stop short of actually constructing nuclear arms, yet having demonstrated that they ultimately have the capability to do so.  Inducements include reassurances that can be made with little risk to the U.S., Israel, or other countries in the region.  They incorporate working to establish a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.  Israel would not be taking any risk by acknowledging its nuclear weapons capacity and collectively working to diminish the need for them.  The U.S. should move toward restoring diplomatic relations with Iran, with the promises that entails.  Opening Iran to more contact and exchanges with Americans can strengthen the position and influence of Iranians who seek domestic reforms.


This path holds out the promise of widespread benefits for the peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Iran.   There would be enhanced security for everyone.  There would be greater economic benefits for everyone.  In the context of the Arab Spring, improving stability and reducing mutual fears is highly desirable.  With American leadership many other countries would choose this path making it the right way for all.


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Louis Kriesberg, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, and Founding Director of the  Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts at Syracuse University, is co-author of Constructive Conflicts, 5th Ed. 2012. This commentary submitted by

  Tom H. Hastings, Ed.D. Director, PeaceVoice Program, Oregon Peace Institute http://www.peacevoice.info/