Last Wednesday, the UN Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. The sanctions follow Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement in February that Iran is now a “nuclear state.” The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran has enriched enough uranium for two nuclear bombs.
These developments render a conversation I had recently that was rather nonsensical. “Iran has as much right to nuclear weapons as anyone else,” a liberal friend told me. This came as a surprise. By now, there is scarcely anyone who is not alarmed at Iran’s nuclear ambitions. On November 27, 2009, the IAEA issued a resolution calling on Iran to freeze operations at its uranium enrichment facility outside the city of Qum. (The existence of the secret Qum installation was revealed to the world by Western leaders in September during the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.) The day after the IAEA resolution, a defiant Iran announced its intention to build an additional ten uranium enrichment plants. Even Russia, long tolerant, if not encouraging of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has shown some signs of unease. On November 16, Russia announced that the Bashere nuclear reactor, which it has been building for Iran, would not come on line by its scheduled completion date at the end of 2009.
Israel openly contemplates a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. This would reprise Israel’s successful air strikes against Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007. It is the prospect of a preemptive strike against Iran—not Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons—which most worries the Left.
A number of other liberal friends echoed the assertion that Iran has a right to nuclear arms. It suddenly struck me that a strange thing had happened on the Left: liberals have embraced the Second Amendment—but with a catch. While most liberals continue to recoil at the thought of guns in the hands of American citizens, a few liberals happily apply the Second Amendment to Iran. This new Second Amendment declares: “Iran’s right to bear nuclear arms shall not be infringed.” Call it the International Second Amendment (Nuclear Version).
The International Second Amendment differs from the arguments usually made against striking Iran. These other arguments focus not on Iran’s purported right to nuclear arms, but on the necessity and feasibility of an attack. They revolve around several factual questions which can be grouped under three headings:
What are Iran’s Intentions? Iran claims that it wants nuclear power only for peaceful uses. Is Iran telling the truth? If Iran is indeed seeking nuclear weapons, will it use them only in self-defense? Does Iran intend to use nuclear weapons in a first strike against Israel or another country? If Iran’s aim is aggression, can Iran be deterred by the nuclear arsenals of the West as was the Soviet Union during the Cold War?
Is a Preemptive Strike Feasible? Can Iran be disarmed by any means short of military force, such as inspections, diplomacy, or the latest round of UN sanctions, augmented by even harsher sanctions imposed by the United States? Is a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities technically feasible? Iran is farther away from Israel than either Iraq or Syria. Can Israeli aircraft strike at that distance? And is it possible to locate and destroy enough of Iran’s nuclear installations, many of which Iran has partly hidden underground?
What Will the Aftermath of an Attack Be? Would terrorism against the West increase? Would Iran close the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, interrupting the flow of oil and plunging the world economy from recession into depression?
These are practical questions. The International Second Amendment, on the other hand, is unconcerned with practicalities. It argues that Iran is entitled to nuclear arms as a matter of principle. Period. The International Second Amendment is not a practical, but a philosophical, specifically an ethical, argument against taking action—any action, military or nonmilitary—against Iran. Does the argument have merit?
Does Iran have a right to possess nuclear weapons? The short answer is: not if Iran intends to use them for aggression. If it can be demonstrated that Iran does have hostile intent, is anyone prepared to argue that Iran still has a right to nuclear arms? As Abraham Lincoln remarked: there is “no right to do wrong.”
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