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Joseph Cirincione -- Five Myths About Iran's Nuclear Program

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5. Iran is the main nuclear threat in the Middle East.

The real threat posed by Iran's nuclear program is that other states in the region feel they must match it. The race has already begun.

While Israel's possession of nuclear weapons has not spurred other countries in the area to develop their own, over the past three years a dozen states in the Middle East, including Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Libya (again), have begun civilian nuclear programs. These programs, alas, are not about reducing the countries' carbon footprint -- they are a hedge against Iran. These states have begun the decades-long process of developing the technical, commercial and engineering capabilities to build nuclear weapons, should they decide to do so. At this point, it is not clear that stopping Iran would stop these programs.

The real danger is not a nuclear-armed Iran but a Middle East with more nuclear-armed nations and unresolved territorial, economic and political disputes. That is a recipe for disaster, and that is why there is no country-specific solution; we cannot play nuclear whack-a-mole.

A comprehensive plan must build barriers against acquiring nuclear weapons and must reduce the motivation to do so. This means dealing with the regional security and prestige issues that motivate most countries to start nuclear programs. It requires a global approach that deals with both sides of the nuclear coin: disarmament and proliferation. Reducing existing nuclear stockpiles creates the support needed to stop the spread of the weapons; stopping the spread creates the security needed to continue reductions. We must keep flipping that coin over. Each flip, each step, makes us a little safer.

joe@ploughshares.org

Joseph Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund and the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." He is an expert adviser to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.


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