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Challenge-Match: Iran should be allowed to work on nuclear weapons.

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posted on Sep, 1 2012 @ 05:38 PM
I wish to thank all the Mods who have worked so hard to bring this Forum back to life, and adjensen, who has graciously agreed to a formal debate on this "hot button" topic.

There is a general consensus among world leaders that it is imperative to prevent The Islamic Republic of Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity. The only public debate seems to be the means to prevent this, not its desirability. I submit that objective analysis suggests that non-interference in Iran's internal affairs, specifically, allowing them to develop nuclear weapons if they so wish, best addresses the strategic goals of the United States and its allies.

Iran has long served as a buffer state between competing imperial powers: Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Russia and the British Empire and, most recently, Russia and the levantine allies of the United States. It has learned from this long history to be diligent in its defense while playing both sides against the other. With a nuclear armed NATO to its west, a nuclear Russia to its north, a nuclear armed and divided Indian sub-continent to its east and, of course, to its south, a nuclear Israel convinced that an existential conflict is inevitable, any Iranian who says that Iran does not want nuclear weapons is insane... or lying.

What would be the consequences of allowing Iran to develop a fission bomb? Politicians and propagandists wave their arms and spout rhetoric about "mushroom clouds over New York and Tel Aviv." How likely is such a scenario? Not very. Fission bombs are very large and heavy. Iran simply does not have even a short range missile that could deliver one. It would take Iran considerable time either to miniaturize its weapons sufficiently or develop a missile of sufficient power and range.

Should Iran develop a nuclear bomb, it would have only two options in terms of delivering it. It could either be dropped by a conventional bomber, or smuggled in to its target nation as a "terror weapon." The former method is highly unlikely. Israel's air defenses are legendary, and the aircraft carrier groups on patrol in the region are more than capable of defending US assets.

Could Iran deploy a nuclear device as a "terror weapon?" Perhaps, but that is already an option they have chosen not to take. Analysts believe that a cash strapped North Korea would happily sell Iran a nuke, yet this has yet to happen. It suggests that the Iranian leadership realize that the consequences of such an act would be dire. The US and Iran already have a lop-sided nuclear "understanding," similar to the one the US and USSR had during the Cold War.

Where, then, does this fear of a nuclear Iran come from? Iran has a reputation for acting irrationally on the world stage. President Ahmadinajad will give a speech promising that Iran is interested only in peace, punctuated by a mass missile launch by the Revolutionary Guard just hours later. Is this mixed message intentional? Or does it indicate some form of political dysfunction? Here's your answer:


This is a governmental structure seemingly designed to short circuit. The Supreme Leader is appointed, not elected, and sets the policy of the nation. He does not legislate, however. That is done by the elected Parliament. Of course, the Supreme Leader has the power of the veto. The President, who is elected, is not the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Supreme Leader is. Of course, in Iran there are Armed Forces and there are Armed Forces. In addition to the usual Army, Navy and Air Force, Iran has a separate military in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. This last is responsible for their missile program. Who do they take orders from? That is not at all clear. Regional commanders have almost unlimited authority. An impulsive action that would get an officer reprimanded in another military might earn someone a promotion in the IRGC.

With great power comes great responsibility. Every nation that has nuclear weapons has a clear chain of command. It is imperative that the order to use nuclear weapons not be made lightly, but, having been made, it will be carried out with certainty. Each nuclear power has designed a set of checks, balances and fail-safes to guarantee the the order is genuine and not made on the whim of a single individual.

The Iranians have demonstrated that they understand the potential consequence of the use of nuclear weapons. Developing these weapons would force them to confront the structural problems at the heart of their experiment in Islamic Republicanism. The IRGC would need to be brought to heel. Absolute power would need to be devolved from the Supreme Leader. The legislature, the voice of the people, would need to be a participant in such a decision. Are not all of these things the stated goal of American policy?
edit on 1-9-2012 by Skyfloating because: Changed Title to indicate "Challenge Match"

posted on Sep, 2 2012 @ 08:05 PM
I'd also like to start by thanking the ATS staff for their dedication to this forum and the unique experiences that it offers. Thanks also to DJW001 for offering up this intriguing topic and accepting me as an opponent.

John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before...

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.

Jurassic Park, 1993

One of my favourite quotes, this applies to issues of nuclear weapons, like few others -- the nuclear issue is as much about morality as it is about scientific progress or military readiness. Nations and scientists may strive to join the nuclear club without considering the ramifications of such. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate "Pandora's Box", and even if the political climate of any state is stable today, it will not necessarily be so tomorrow, and once the genie is out of the bottle, it can not be returned if that political climate shifts.

Iran, of course, presents the unique case of a political state that is one of the most unstable of our time.

If we consider three basic classifications of weapons -- conventional, chemical/biological and nuclear, we can quickly come to the conclusion that, from the perspective of the international community, the first is largely uncontrollable, the second fairly uncontrollable but very undesirable, and the last extremely undesirable, but the most controllable.

It would seem clearly irrational to believe that an unstable state should be allowed to develop weapons that are in the best interests of the international community to suppress, in the expectation that, at some point in the future, they might be stable enough to trust with the ability to cause millions of deaths.

With respect to the international community, Iran is a signatory of the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, meaning that the Iranian government has pledged to not develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Irrespective of whether we should allow them to develop nuclear weapons, if they are currently doing so, they are in violation of the NNT, an indication of the current government's attitude toward international law.

So we can quickly see that turning a blind eye to Iran's development of nuclear weapons is both irrational and a refutation of international law.

Consider this list of current nuclear nations -- The United States, United Kingdom, France; Russia; China, North Korea; India and Pakistan; Israel. Those semi-colons are important, as they represent logical groupings of nations. The first three are (largely) allied against Russia and the loose Chinese/North Korean alliance, Pakistan and India have the bomb as foils to each other, and Israel neither admits to having a bomb, nor do they have a reasonable target for one.

It's these last three nations that are of most importance for this discussion.

Long held conventional wisdom is that the primary benefit of the possession of nuclear weapons is to not use them. They are weapons of deterrence, best exemplified in the doctrine of "mutually assured destruction". In the above mentioned list of countries, peace has largely been kept through the knowledge that the use of nuclear weapons by a nation would result in the same weapons being used against them.

That, of course, requires that the leadership of a country and/or military is rational and has the best interests of their people in mind, which does not seem to be assuredly the case for the Iranians.

The larger problem, though, is the balance of power in the Middle East. The threat of Israel's nuclear arsenal has served to limit the conventional threats of its neighbours -- Syria will not attack Israel in a meaningful way if it understands that it may face a nuclear assault if things go too far, an assault it has no nuclear response to. Were Iran to have a countermeasure to Israel's pocket threat, this likely would mean that the threat of conventional warfare from a number of Israel's enemies would increase.

DJW correctly points out that Iran currently lacks the missile or rocket capability to deliver nuclear payloads any significant distance, somewhat negating his claim that Iran can somehow be a beneficial deterrent to non-neighbours such as Turkey or Russia, so in the end, the only benefit of Iran having these weapons would be in regards to their direct neighbours, none of whom presents any significant threat to either Iran or Western interests.

posted on Sep, 5 2012 @ 06:45 AM
I thank the Mods and my opponent for their patience.

My opponent has characterized the Iranian state as "one of the most unstable of our time." This is far from the truth. Even setting aside such failed states as Somalia, Iran's totalitarian nature has made it more "stable" than nearly any country outside of North Korea. In fact, their foreign policy is much more predictable in the long term than that of Israel. Because of its garrulous electorate, Israel can go from an extreme left wing government to an extreme right wing government almost overnight. Both North Korea and Israel have nuclear arms, yet the United States "turns a blind eye" to them. Why does Iran merit such exceptional treatment?

As for Iran violating international law, it has been unusually scrupulous in keeping to the letter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, at least overtly. It is clear that at some point they intend to break the treaty openly. This is precisely the path that India took, and, after some token remonstrances, the United States ultimately "turned a blind eye" to them as well. Why should Iran be treated any differently?

Furthermore, to invoke international law as a justification for interfering in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation is hypocritical at best. The Peace of Westphalia established a precedent that lies at the heart of modern international law and diplomacy. It is not up to the United States to decide what other nations may or may not do. Why should Iran be an exception to this principle?

In determining whether a policy is rational or not, one must analyze the risks. Iran has yet to carry through on any of its wilder threats, such as closing the Strait of Hormuz. It is also very careful to conduct its foreign adventures covertly, behind a screen of plausible deniability. It is clear that Iran is very aware of the potential consequences of its actions. Why would possessing nuclear arms change this?

On the other hand, the current policy of isolating Iran politically and economically carries its own risks. Americans view Iran as a powerful outlier on the edge of its "Holy Land," its "Middle East." Here is how Russia sees it:


Iran is the 800 pound gorilla in Russia's own back yard. A policy that alienates Iran does not does not simply push it away, it pushes it into the Russian sphere of influence. Is that a rational policy?

posted on Sep, 5 2012 @ 03:57 PM
I believe that, if the primary question regarding the role of alliance building as an influence to the permissibility of Iran's development of nuclear weapons, we need to take a look at a number of issues that may reflect on the viability of that argument.

Russian sentiment towards Islam

Although Iran is declared a Republic, it is, in fact, a theocracy, with the Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed for life as the "Divine President". This calls into question Russia's current and prior relationships with Islamic countries, as to whether such an alliance is likely. However, we can see that, from the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, to the brutal crackdown in Chechnya, to the current persecution of Muslims and Salafists in Tatarstan (Source,) the Soviets and Russia have a long history of animosity towards Islam, particularly emerging Islamic politicization.

Benefits of an Iranian/Russian alliance

Although the two are nominally allies already, there is little benefit to Russia in having Iran a closely held ally. The predominant resource of that country, oil, is more in need by China than Russia, and there is already resource conflict between the two nations, as regards the Caspian Sea (Source.) Iran and Russia do, of course, have a shared distrust of Turkey, but it seems highly unlikely that Russia would see nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians as being particularly useful in the containment of the Turks.

The close economic ties between Russia, China, the United States and European Union push those four groups in each other's direction, rather than encouraging them to be pulled apart over matters such as this -- in other words, even with the oil resources of Iran in the mix, it is more advantageous for China and Russia to eventually side with the west on denying Iran nuclear capabilities.

Previous Western experience in similar instances

Both the United States and the west, in general, have seen numerous instances where arming (or merely turning the other way while arms were being built up,) pseudo allies has backfired in the past. One need only point to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, built out of the Mujahidin, for a classic example of this error, but others exist, in El Savadore, Columbia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and other conflicts, where the side the west supported turned out to be every bit as bad (or worse) than those in opposition.

I think it rather likely that current American operations within Pakistan (primarily through drone strikes) are as much about keeping the Islamic insurgents of northwest Pakistan from getting a toehold in a country that has exploitable nuclear weapons as they are about keeping them out of Afghanistan. Will that eventually backfire? Time will tell.

Potential risk of Iranian building nuclear weapons

As I noted in my previous post, the risks associated with ANY nation building nuclear arms are significant -- whether accidental use, terrorist access, an unbalancing of regional powers, the prompting of other nations to build them, or many other risks. Meanwhile, the benefits, particularly to a nation in the position of Iran, are very slim, primarily among them the prestige of "joining the nuclear table" and having some weight to throw around. It seems highly unlikely that any nation would view that as a good thing, for them.

In short, it seems unlikely that it is in the best interests of anyone to permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons, in order to prevent them from developing a closer relationship to Russia, China or any other ally.

As for both North Korea and India getting what is presented as a "free pass" on the subject, that is most definitely not the case. North Korea, for example, was under economic sanctions from the international community since the 1990s, in an effort to stop their nuclear program. That said sanctions failed to achieve the desired result does not bode well for continued reliance on them in the face of Iranian nuclear research. In 1998, in an effort to "stand down" Indian/Pakistani nuclear conflict, the United State again imposed sanctions on India (later dropped.)

Finally, the international community has a vested interest in the promotion of security within the international community, so it is not an overstepping of power for said community to require reasonable behaviour (including the honouring of signed international treaties) by all nations. While nuclear weapon research is an internal state matter, the ramifications of its conclusion are not.

posted on Sep, 7 2012 @ 05:03 PM
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Central Asia provided Iran with fertile ground for exporting its particular brand of Islam. For once, Russia was faced with the possibility of losing hegemony in the region. By isolating Iran economically, the United States inadvertently presented Russia with an opportunity to engage in economic colonialism.

Contrary to propaganda emitting from Tehran, Russia and Iran are not allies. My opponent is correct in his assessment of Iranian animus towards Russia's crass materialism. Russia has used the embargo to become not merely an important trading partner, but a vital supplier of technology. Russia has openly offered to help Iran with its peaceful nuclear program. Just as, during the Cold War, the Soviet Union "assisted" non-aligned nations by building hydroelectric plants that required Soviet engineers to run them and Soviet made replacement parts, and built railways of a unique gauge that could accommodate only Soviet built rolling stock, so Russia is attempting to draw Iran into its orbit. By providing Russian technology and human assistance, Russia knows that it can control the shape of Iran's nuclear destiny.


  • The United States has no right under international law to intervene in the internal affairs of another sovereign state.
  • Despite its constant saber rattling, Iran has always acted with an eye towards the potential consequences of its actions.
  • Possessing nuclear weapons will force it to make structural changes to accommodate the possible consequences of an unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
  • A nuclear Iran would serve as a strategic counterweight to other nuclear powers in the area.
  • Relaxing the pressure on Tehran would make Russian subversion more difficult.
  • Nuclear research requires high levels of non-religious eduction. It is precisely this educated class that poses the greatest threat to Iran's theocracy.

Ironically, Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons since the time of the last Shah. It is hard to believe that a country as wealthy as Iran, with such a long tradition of scholastic and technological innovation has yet to develop nuclear weapons. It is almost as if the gatekeepers are keeping the "genie in the bottle" until they know it will serve a worthy master. I say: let them keep trying in peace. Something tells me Iran won't be a nuclear power until Iran is ready to be a nuclear power.

posted on Sep, 7 2012 @ 11:58 PM
In this debate, we have seen that there are complex geopolitical issues associated with this current international crisis, and my opponent seems to have reduced his argument to this point, that the sanctions which are currently in place are serving not to dissuade Iran from their technical nuclear research, but rather to press them into a closer relationship with Russia.

To that end, I concede the point, but I disagree with its significance, and its value, as regards the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons development. Allowing such development, in order to prevent the further enhancement of an already existing relationship, seems foolhardy, at best. It would be the diplomatic equivalent of "using a bazooka to kill a fly" -- there are far less dangerous methods to undermine the relationship between Russia and Iran.

Again, it is of the utmost importance, to the international community, to keep weapons of mass destruction as limited as possible. That means the fewer nations that have them, the better. It is unfortunate that they exist at all, given their abilities to instantly kill millions, alter the planet's climate and allow insignificant madmen to threaten the world, as demonstrated by the late Kin Jong Il of North Korea.

With that in mind, the only truly sane policy must be to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, the goal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory.

To my opponent's summation points:

The United States has no right under international law to intervene in the internal affairs of another sovereign state.

Correct, though the majority of current sanctions are under the auspices of the United Nations - resolutions #1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835 and 1929. In addition, both the EU and US have imposed their own sanctions beyond these, clearly within their rights to do.

Despite its constant saber rattling, Iran has always acted with an eye towards the potential consequences of its actions.

Sadly, this country is known for occasional irrational acts, making them a poor horse to back on the "they'll do the right thing" bandwagon.

Iran does not always act quite so rationally. Rarely, but repeatedly over the years, it has launched attacks that seemed to invite massive retaliation, for apparently little gain. Iran's targets have included the U.S. Embassyand Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in the early 1990s, and the U.S. military's Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996. Just last year, the Iranians were behind a botched scheme to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States. (Source)

Frankly, that doesn't sound like a nation that one should put a lot of faith in.

Possessing nuclear weapons will force it to make structural changes to accommodate the possible consequences of an unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

The issue remains not what practices might be put in place, but whether any changes are relevant. The concern is that a regime that is both unstable (not reliable to continue in its present form) and highly disinterested in anyone's interest but their own can be counted on to prevent unauthorized use of the nation's weapons.

A nuclear Iran would serve as a strategic counterweight to other nuclear powers in the area.
Relaxing the pressure on Tehran would make Russian subversion more difficult.

I will point out, again, that the only nuclear power in Iran's immediate vicinity is Israel, which has demonstrated that it will not use nuclear weapons when attacked by conventional ones, indicating that a counter to Israel's nuclear monopoly would, in fact, destabilize the region.

Nuclear research requires high levels of non-religious eduction. It is precisely this educated class that poses the greatest threat to Iran's theocracy.

Of all the summation points that DJW makes, this is the one that I agree with the most, but it remains a bit of an overextension. The number of physicists required for the Manhattan Project was actually pretty small (Source), and those guys were starting from scratch.

We should encourage the development of an educated middle and middle upper class in Iran, but nuclear weapon research is most certainly NOT the means by which this should be accomplished.


And with this, our debate ends. I'd like to thank DJW001 for a thought provoking contest, the ATS Debate Forum for hosting and judging, and all of our readers for their attention.

posted on Sep, 12 2012 @ 05:13 PM
Judgments are in after a great debate:

Judge 1:

I judge the Iran debate as follows:

round 1: DJW001
round 2: adjensen
round 3: adjensen

Winner: adjensen

Judge 1:

For the winner of the debate I chose Adjesen.

He presented a better idea for how Iran should move forward on the international stage, through strong economic partnerships and building an educated middle class. Further more he argued quite well that having a Nuclear Iran although beneficial in some aspects, would still lead to further destabilization of the region, along with the scare of having a religious fanatic in charge of such destructive power.

The winner of this Debate is adjensen

posted on Sep, 12 2012 @ 05:33 PM
I agree. My last two posts did not flow as well as they could. Lack of space prevented me for making what I meant by "act as a counterbalance to other countries in the area" more explicit. Adjensen definitely finished stronger. Congratulations, ad! (And thanks to the judges who volunteered their valuable time.)

posted on Sep, 12 2012 @ 06:47 PM
Thank you, DJW, for a fun debate, I really enjoyed this one, and much thanks to the judges for their time and review!

I agree that space limitations make a comprehensive argument more difficult to drill down to, but I suppose it's like a time limit during a spoken debate. I need to work on my prioritization and organization skills, that's for sure.

posted on Sep, 12 2012 @ 06:48 PM
Congrats to both

I know the smaller format is challenging, but in the end, stricker guidelines will make you all better debators in the future

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