Assuming that Iran develops a nuclear warhead, it is still unclear whether it is capable of launching a nuclear-tipped missile from its territory. Using proxies, like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Jihadists, and planes and ships is possible, but risky.
- White House: IAEA report on Iran 'very alarming' Netanyahu: Iran closer to bomb than assumed
- Obama: Iran sanctions have 'enormous bite'
Rather than engaging in irresponsible rhetoric, threats and boasting, the situation requires strategic watchfulness. The deployment of allied anti-missile-equipped ships in the Gulf is a serious commitment and missile defense systems amplify the chances that an incoming missile will be intercepted. The launch of a first strike, however, should trigger a response with full force.
Once it achieves nuclear capability, therefore, Iran is also limited. The United States, Britain and France (and other countries) could warn Iran that launching a missile – any missile (as it can be assumed to be a WMD) – would result in a devastating response and possible annihilation by a combined international force.
Such warning to Iran must be clear, unequivocal, and substantive. This would obligate the "Great Powers," including NATO, to become part of a control mechanism that will act decisively. There can be no question about the ramifications of a first-strike launch using WMD.
The advantage of such a mechanism is that it virtually locks in all participants and everyone knows the rules. Iran's success up to now has been due to the lack of rules, clear red lines and meaningful consequences. The responsibility for prudence and self-preservation as well as the system itself, therefore, is incumbent on every player. And once armed, there is no withdrawal.
Iran, like Pakistan and North Korea, will no doubt try to distribute and build facilities for WMDs and may be initially successful, but these covert initiatives are detectable and can be readily eliminated.
Message of resolve
Countries that threaten others with WMDs should be ostracized and severely punished. This intervention, included in Chapter VII of the UN Charter, permits the total economic and political isolation of countries in violation. In this way, Iranian nuclear weapons could be a blessing in disguise if they prompt a new way of thinking about the problem and how to contain it.
The premise of this approach is that having "The Bomb" would include accountability for its use. Stepping back from confrontation is not appeasement or conciliation if it includes a message of resolve: The initial use of WMDs, without provocation, will trigger a devastating response by the international community. This can be an effective deterrent.
A critical factor, therefore, is not only that Iran, or any other country obtains WMDs, but that the international community – especially the UN Security Council – announce emphatically what the provocative use of such terrible weapons will mean. There can be no ambiguity and no doubt about the common commitment to retaliate against a first-strike use of WMDs.
Nuclear proliferation may be inevitable, but not necessarily uncontrollable. Every nation involved in allowing and helping Iran achieve nuclear capabilities has a moral obligation to prevent the production of nuclear weapons and ensure that such weapons will not be used to initiate an attack. This is something that every nation can and should support.
As more nations acquire nuclear capability and weapons, they can learn that it's also a responsibility.
Failure to respond effectively to a clear and present danger – appeasement - is moral degeneracy and self-destructive. One Neville Chamberlain at Munich is enough.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem