by Bob Barr
The list of reasons Iran should not become a nuclear nation is lengthy; but recent events present the starkest reason yet why that must never happen.
In the broadest sense, nuclear power should not belong to a nation that openly talks about eliminating an entire race of people from the planet. Rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, Iran’s theocratic regime clearly cannot be trusted to use such power only for deterrent purposes.
The recent downing of a civilian aircraft by its military forces serves as a glaringly obvious, practical reason why Iran must never gain access to military nuclear technology — incompetence.
Contrary to the visage of Iran as a mega-presence on the world stage (a view regularly promoted by the regime’s leaders), the country is not a formidable military presence by modern standards. Our Defense Intelligence Agency notes that the Iranian regime in recent years has emphasized military improvements to its forces. However, as a result of embargoes on foreign-produced technology, such improvements have been hamstrung by sanctions and internal financial troubles. Iran’s once modern air force now is comprised of aging fighter jets, and its ballistic missile arsenal – the backbone of its military power – includes many that the DIA believes to be old and inaccurate.
As calculated by the military-tracking organization GlobalFirePower.com, Iran’s military power ranks 14th in the world, behind countries such as Egypt and Brazil. While the military threat posed by Iran is not one to be taken lightly, it is not one that warrants the same degree of concern as Russia’s or China’s. Iran’s offensive strength lies in its ability and predisposition to engage in asymmetrical warfare; causing regional or cyberspace disruptions as opposed to full-on military conflict.
Becoming a nuclear power, however, remains an obsession of Iran’s leaders. And it is in this regard that what happened earlier this month must remain at the forefront of efforts by the United States and our allies to ensure Iran’s dream never materializes. The demonstrated inability by the country’s military to properly use a rudimentary missile air defense system, resulting in the accidental shoot-down of a civilian aircraft, underscores the practical need to keep more lethal weapons out of the regime’s hands.
Arming Iran with nuclear weapons, or even non-nuclear weaponry significantly more advanced and powerful than is currently available to them, is akin to putting a teenager behind the wheel of a 707-horsepower Dodge Charger Hellcat; a move irresponsible in the extreme.
Complicating matters further is the serious disconnect between Iran’s military leaders and its civilian authorities, a problem that was on full display following the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. The lack of transparency and accountability displayed in the aftermath of that tragedy is symptomatic of the manner by which the country has been governed for more than four decades. It is a dysfunctional system that breeds mistrust and secrecy, to the point that one hand does not know what the other hand is doing.
In such a closed theocratic system, true accountability is neither fostered nor tolerated. If forced by domestic or outside pressure to admit mistake, the action taken will be as limited and short-lived as possible; resulting in no systemic or long-term reform and essentially guaranteeing future blunders.
Though much more limited in scope, Iran’s downing of Flight 752 is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Chernobyl was the byproduct of political obsession, shoddy engineering, systemic fear of voicing concern, cultural hubris and overall breakdown in communication between civilian and government agencies. As we later learned, the catastrophe was very nearly global in scope; but also one that would have been avoidable in virtually any non-totalitarian society. In Soviet Russia, however, Chernobyl was the result of government hubris and dysfunction.
Similarly, Iran appears un-phased by the killing of 176 civilians in a completely avoidable accident; choosing instead to cast blame on the United States for the tense regional environment in which the catastrophic military blunder happened. This, on top of its general incompetence, is all the more reason for a reinvigorated global effort to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran’s reach. A key element of this effort must be to renew the U.N. arms embargo currently set to expire in October, which would free Iran to update its military and pursue far more deadly and advanced weaponry.
Iran has offered the world absolutely no reason to suggest it is morally or practically capable of being trusted with weapons of mass destruction, and the downing of Flight 752 this month is only the latest reminder. We need not give them more opportunities to further prove us right.