Published in the Globe and Mail, February 18, 2013
Among the many reasons why Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons (a sentiment with which any reasonable person must agree), one hears the argument that it would initiate a cascade of proliferation across the Middle East. First Saudi Arabia, then Turkey, then Egypt, then God knows who would inevitably acquire nuclear weapons – and quickly. So goes the conventional wisdom expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Stephen Harper and any number of hawkish think-tank experts.
There is considerable historical evidence to suggest that this would not happen. If it did, it would take a long time. Talk of rapid proliferation across the region is simply not apt.
Since the dawn of the nuclear era, various leaders and analysts have predicted that nuclear proliferation would take place rapidly and inexorably. Those countries that could build the bomb would do so, and others would build it in response. It has been predicted that almost 50 countries would eventually join the nuclear club alongside the five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
That prediction has proved wrong. Only four additional countries – India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – have acquired nuclear weapons. One country unambiguously tried and was stopped (Iraq, before it was foolish enough to invade Kuwait). In each case, the reasons why these countries decided to build nuclear weapons had to do with the specifics of their security situations rather than a reflex action. This record is hardly cause for celebration but also hardly the proliferation threat so often forecast….
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