The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Economist says US should give Middle East a nuclear umbrella against Iran

I could not disagree further with this (the bold bit):

If Iran does not halt its nuclear programme, its rulers should expect their country to be treated as an international pariah. That means not just pushing for more serious sanctions, but also stepping up the covert campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear facilities. It also means preparing for the day when Iran deploys nuclear weapons. To that end, America must demonstrate to its allies who feel threatened by Iran—not just Israel, but Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states too—that its commitment to extending nuclear deterrence to them is as firm as it was to Europe at the height of the cold war. America must also be willing to make available to its allies advanced ballistic missile defences.

Iran must be made to understand that owning nuclear weapons is a curse for it rather than a blessing. And Israel must be persuaded that striking Iran would be far more dangerous than living with its nuclear ambitions.

Overall this leader strikes the right tone, although it inverses the seriousness of the crimes: a nuclear Iran would be a breach of the NPT, but a strike on Iran is an act of war that strikes at the very foundation of the international legal system. In any case, the suggestion that the US should extend a Cold War style nuclear umbrella over the Middle East is pure folly, the exact opposite of the disengagement from the region by the US that is now necessary. Iran's nuclear program does not represent a threat in itself (few think Iran would use the bomb) but rather an increase of Iran's regional prestige and influence. It is also a reaction to a long threat of regime change against it (and the case of Libya must not be giving it confidence that giving up nuclear weapons is the right choice.)

This idea of a US nuclear umbrella, though, strikes me as deeply flawed. Who is going to pay for this nuclear umbrella? What risks will it expose the US to? What kind of overstretch will it be getting into? What does it mean in terms of the number of ships, submarines, bases, aircraft, etc. affected to the region? There were dozens of US bases across Europe providing a nuclear umbrella there. Do we really need more in the Middle East?