Kenneth Waltz, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, makes the case for the ‘most compelling realist argument of all’, suggesting that an Iran possessing nuclear weapons capabilities would lead to a more stable Middle East. John Mearsheimer recently cautiously supported Waltz’ argument on PBS News Hour, going so far as to suggest that nuclear weapons are ‘weapons of peace’.
If, as Waltz had suggested earlier, “peace has become the privilege of states having nuclear weapons, while wars are fought by those who lack them”, shouldn’t all states be allowed to have nuclear weapons? Ultimately, a nuclear world would have to be a world without wars, if we go by his logic.
He might have a point, though, in arguing that sanctions are not necessarily effective in dissuading Iran – see North Korea – and might in effect be counter-productive, moreover as they entail ramifications far beyond their intended target.
But his argument makes me wonder how serious he actually is, and how big or small a realist community actually believes in the tenets of the nuclear peace!?
As the authors of the 2009/10 Human Security Report suggest, major powers still were engaged in wars despite their nuclear capabilities, though not directly with other nuclear powers, but in proxy wars. Dov Zakheim on the PBS News Hour disagrees, pointing out that India and Pakistan went to war even after they acquired nuclear weapons. Still, if Iran had the bomb, could we see the Mullahs engage in proxy wars elsewhere in the region? Or would the Ayatollahs prevail?
As Mack et al. suggest the nuclear deterrent is not only effective against potential adversaries, but equally against those possessing nuclear arsenals. No state would want to be singled out for having started a nuclear war, even against an adversary that neither possesses nuclear weapons nor has allies that do – the nuclear taboo.
But how about the possibility of a limited Iranian nuclear programme? Would Teheran be less inclined to pursue its nuclear weapons programme if the P5 +1 lift the sanctions and recognise Iran’s right for a peaceful nuclear programme, as suggested by Loren White? Would this dissuade Teheran from further pursuing nuclear weaponization? Would Kenneth Waltz consider this sufficiently conducive to peace in the Middle East?
The impression that lingers from the current debate is that (neo-) realists are alive and kickin’, and aspiring nuclear powers should love them for that!
 Andrew Mack et al., “Human Security Report 2009/10: The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War and Peace in the 21st Century,” ed. Human Security Report Project/Simon Fraser University (Vancouver 2010).
 Kenneth Waltz, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 4 (2012).
 Kenneth Waltz, “Peace, Stability, and Nuclear Weapons,” in Policy Papers (Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, UC Berkeley, 1995).
 Mack et al., “Human Security Report 2009/10: The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War and Peace in the 21st Century.”
 Loren White, “The case for recognising a limited Iranian nuke programme ” Al Jazeera, 13 July 2012.