The Debates About a Nuclear Iran
Iran has a right to develop nuclear weapons.
  • Other nations have nuclear weapons. There is no reason a proud, historic nation like Iran should not.

  • Iran has a right to the self-defense afforded by nuclear weapons. "It would be in Iran's interests not to have nuclear weapons, but not if they are constantly being threatened with an attack or occupation or regime change."—Stephen Walt
Iran has a right to develop nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons.
  • Iran's effort violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran is a signatory.

    • Other known or suspected nuclear nations, such as India and Pakistan, are not NPT signatories. North Korea withdrew from NPT in 2003. Israel has never revealed whether it has nuclear weapons and never signed NPT.

    • Violation of NPT undermines international stability and efforts to prevent the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation.

  • Iran has never claimed it needs nuclear weapons for self-defense. Instead, it has constantly threatened its neighbors. "The nuclear bomb is a fire against humanity rather than a weapon for self-defense."—President Ahmadinejad, 2010
A nuclear Iran is not a threat to the U.S. or the free world.
Iran has declared the U.S. the "Great Satan," and other liberal democracies its enemy.

Iran's goal is regional hegemony. It threatens its neighbors and its targeted enemies and will undermine global stability.

  • The threat of nuclear terrorism would escalate worldwide. Iran is already the world's leading state sponsor of international terrorism.
  • Armed with nuclear weapons, Iran would be able to threaten U.S. allies in the region.
  • Iran would be able to manipulate oil prices, leading to economic instability globally.
  • Iran would be able to threaten international shipping lines.
  • Iran would be able to threaten U.S. and allied forces in the region.
  • Iran would be able to escalate terrorism against Western targets and troops without fear that the U.S. or other nations would risk a nuclear confrontation by retaliating.
A nuclear Iran is not a threat to Israel.
A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and other countries in the region.
  • Iran has already caused hundreds of Israeli deaths by supporting and arming Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and other groups and by sponsoring the murder and attempted murder of Jews worldwide, from the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires to the 2012 terrorist attempts on the lives of Israelis in India, Azerbaijan, Thailand, and Georgia.

  • Iran has systematically issued genocidal threats against Israel.

  • Israel is small in population and land area with 7 million people in a nation the size of New Jersey. One nuclear bomb could destroy the country and its people.

  • Israel cannot live in the "shadow of annihilation." No reasonable nation should accept this threat to Israel or to any member of the community of nations.
It is not clear that Iran is trying to weaponize its nuclear program.
  • Iran claims it is not pursuing weaponization. "We are not seeking nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic of Iran considers possession of nuclear weapons a sin."—Ayatollah Khamenei, Feb. 22, 2012, and 2004 fatwa

  • In 2007, Iran was not developing nuclear weapons, according to the IAEA and U.S. intelligence.
While there is debate about whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability, all evidence points to a trajectory of efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability.
  • Iran hid its nuclear programs for 18 years .

  • Iran has repeatedly refused to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors, leading to six UN resolutions condemning it and imposing sanctions.

  • November 2011: IAEA reported that Iran "carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device."

  • February 2012: IAEA reported that Iran is moving rapidly to develop nuclear weapons fuel.
Timeline: Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons for at least three years.
  • Israel's former Mossad director, Meir Dagan, estimated that Iran could not get nuclear weapons until 2015.
Timeline: Iran will likely have nuclear weapons capability by the end of May 2012 and at least one crude weapon by the end of 2012.
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta estimated it will have nuclear weapons by Dec. 2012.

  • Given Iran's nuclear progress, other international experts estimate "break out capability" will occur by summer 2012.
Timeline: The U.S. estimates Iran needs at least until the end of 2012 to build nuclear weapons.
Timeline: Israel estimates Iran needs only until late spring or early summer 2012 to become nuclear.
  • Israel's estimate is based on when Iran will have nuclear weapons capability, not actual weapons. Once Iran has nuclear capability, the regime can decide to build nuclear weapons in a matter of months.

  • Israel's estimate is based on the time a military option is still feasible. Once Iran hides its nuclear facilities underground, they will be virtually immune from attack. The U.S., whose military capabilities are superior to Israel's, has a longer period for effective military action.
A nuclear Iran can be "contained " by MAD (fear of Mutually Assured Destruction).
  • Iran is a "rational actor." Despite its extremist rhetoric, the Iranian regime has rationally pursued its national goals, wants to preserve its power, and is not self-destructive. It would not risk nuclear retaliation.

  • Other dangerous, ideologically driven nuclear nations have been contained. The U.S.S.R., North Korea, China, and Pakistan all behaved rationally after acquiring nuclear weapons.
A nuclear Iran cannot be securely "contained."
  • Iran is a dangerously unpredictable actor. Driven by fanaticism, the Iranian regime glorifies martyrdom and would sacrifice many to achieve its goals. "An atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but would just produce minor damages in the Muslim world."—Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Former Iranian president, 2001

  • Iran's regime is driven by otherworldly, religious fanaticism, not the secular priorities of other nuclear nations. "I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam remains triumphant in the rest of the world."—Ayatollah Khomeini, 1980

  • Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of international terrorism and regularly issues genocidal threats against its neighbors.
Stiffer sanctions should not be imposed on Iran.
  • The draconian sanctions imposed in 2012 will hurt ordinary Iranian people, not just the government.

  • Stiffer sanctions will make Iran even more defiant.
Stiffer sanctions must be imposed on Iran.
  • Stiffer sanctions were necessary because the weaker sanctions imposed for the last 10 years were ineffective. Iran continued to defy the UN and IAEA, and it accelerated its nuclear program.

  • The Iranian government is responsible for the suffering of its citizens. It can ease their plight by complying with the UN, IAEA, and the international community. Sanctions are far more humane than the alternative: war

  • Stiffer sanctions seem to be working. The economic repercussions between January and March 2012 finally made Iran agree to resume negotiations.
Current sanctions and diplomacy are the best ways to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons efforts.
Sanctions and diplomacy are the preferred options, but they are not foolproof.
  • Iran has continued its race to build nuclear weapons despite 10 years of sanctions and diplomacy.

  • Iran carried on diplomacy and permitted IAEA inspections even while it carried on nuclear activity in secret sites not open to inspectors.

  • International inspectors must have access to all of Iran's nuclear sites before it can trust that sanctions and diplomacy have worked.
Military action should not even be considered. The repercussions would be more dire than an Iran with nuclear weapons.
  • A general war could erupt in the Middle East as other nations become involved.

  • Terrorism against Western targets would escalate.

  • Oil prices would skyrocket.
Imminent military intervention must be on the table. Iran has regularly defied or circumvented international efforts to resolve the issue peacefully.
  • A nuclear Iran would destabilize the Middle East more than the fear of war would. It would provoke nuclear proliferation and turn the unstable, volatile region into a nuclear tinderbox.

  • No nation has attacked Iran yet. It is already the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and it has made it clear that Western, liberal democracies are its targeted enemies.

  • Once it is armed with nuclear weapons, Iran will expand its power in the region and manipulate oil prices at will. Prices will likely skyrocket with or without military action.
An Israeli military attack would be ineffective and destructive warmongering.
An Israeli military attack would be an act of self-defense, a last resort against a nation that is making genocidal threats against Israel and the Jewish people.
  • Iran, not Israel, is the warmonger preaching destruction.

  • Israel may decide that the costs of a defensive war are lower than the ongoing threat of a nuclear Iran that is primed to "wipe it off the map."

A U.S. military attack would have terrible consequences and only delay Iran's nuclear weapons quest.
The existence of a nuclear Iran will also have terrible consequences. The question is whether the world can accept the risk of a nuclear Iran.
  • Other nations whose nuclear capacity was destroyed, such as Iraq and Syria, have not rebuilt their nuclear facilities.

  • Even delay would be preferable to a nuclear-armed Iran. In the intervening years, Iran could be persuaded to abandon the quest for nuclear weapons, or a new regime could come to power, or the current, radical regime could be replaced by a more moderate one.