Bolton and Markey: Is Obama Embracing a Post-Iran Nuclear Arms Race?
11:13 AM, Feb 14, 2012 • By ROBERT ZARATE
In an op-ed published last week, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Congressman Ed Markey (D, Mass.) criticize President Obama for abandoning the effort to prevent a post-Iran nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Known as the new “gold standard” for nuclear nonproliferation, this effort is intended to complement—and bolster—U.S. and allied efforts to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
Under the nonproliferation “gold standard”—which was established by the U.S. civil nuclear trade deal with the United Arab Emirates—countries that lack nuclear arms would legally oblige themselves not to develop uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and other nuclear fuel-making technologies that can bring them to the brink of nuclear weapons. They’d also open themselves up to the sort of intrusive international inspections that Iran has adamantly refused to allow. The point of the new standard is to isolate Iran’s dangerous nuclear misbehavior and to forestall Middle Eastern countries themselves from pursuing nuclear arms.
The problem, though, is that President Obama—the Nobel peace laureate who has pledged to pursue a world free of nuclear weapons—is preemptively giving up on nonproliferation “gold standard,” thereby fully opening the door for a race for nuclear arms in the Middle East. As Bolton and Markey write:
The Obama administration’s apparent decision to bail on the nuclear “gold standard” comes at a critical time. Indeed, it’s clear that Iran’s march to nuclear weapons capability is threatening not only the security of the United States and Israel, but also that of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and other U.S. partners in the Middle East. What’s troubling, though, is that Iran’s nuclear mischief is leading countries in the region reportedly to consider their own options to get a nuclear bomb in a pinch. For example, some speculate that Saudi Arabia might ask Pakistan to place nuclear arms on its territory, just as Western Europeans had invited U.S. nuclear weapons on their territories to help deter the Soviet Union.
No doubt, a nuclear armed Iran would be terrible—and is unacceptable. But what would be arguably worse—especially for the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region—would be a grim future in which many Middle Eastern countries either possess nuclear arms or have the option on building them on very short notice. Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, has described this sort of future as a “nuclear 1914” world, in which one country’s provocations would start a catalytic chain reaction a la World War I, potentially engulfing the region in nuclear conflict.
Bolton and Markey, however, contend that there’s much that can be done to stave off that “nuclear 1914” world. For starters, Congress can take the initiative: