Can a nuclear Iran be deterred?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing parliament in Tehran on February 1.
February 7th, 2012
12:30 PM ET

Can a nuclear Iran be deterred?

Editor's note: Amitai Etzioni is professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University.

By Amitai Etzioni - Special to CNN

There is a growing interest among U.S. foreign policy officials and scholars in deterring Iran; that is, in tolerating a nuclear armed Iran but keeping it at bay by threatening it in kind should it use its nuclear weapons. Although the Obama administration has not embraced this position, some observers believe this is the direction it is headed.

One indication comes from Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser. In a speech late last year, he remarked, "We will continue to build a regional defense architecture that prevents Iran from threatening its neighbors. We will continue to deepen Iran's isolation, regionally and globally." And a recent report sponsored by the U.S. Air Force outlines a strategy for deterrence that includes expanding the United States' regional nuclear presence and improving American missile defense capabilities. As one expert puts it, "Deterrence against a nuclear Iran should not be terribly difficult."

For deterrence to work, the leaders of the nations that command nuclear arms must be rational. The champions of deterrence claim to demonstrate that Iran's leaders are not insane by showing that they react in sensible ways to changes in the world around them.

Amitai Etzioni

For instance, after the U.S. military easily wiped out Saddam Hussein's army in Iraq and President George W. Bush told Iran it was on the very short list of members in the "Axis of Evil," Iran made a very conciliatory offerregarding its nuclear program. In short, proponents of deterrence argue that leaders and governments in fact do respond to changes with reason and logic.

However, there's another type of decision-making process that sociologists have known about. It's nonrational behavior, such as when people act in response to deeply held beliefs that cannot be proven or disproven. People have long shown they are willing to kill or be killed for their beliefs, and that God commanded them to act in a particular manner. They may respond to facts and pressures, but only as long as those factors affect the ways they implement their beliefs - but not the beliefs themselves. Thus, a religiously fanatical Iranian leader who believes that God commanded him to wipe out Tel Aviv may calculate whether to use missiles or bombers and in what season to attack, but not whether to heed God's command to destroy the infidels.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. 100% ETHIO


    February 7, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  2. Hahahahaha

    Let the doilie heads and the towel heads start flying!!!! Hahahahahahaha

    February 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  3. AJAX

    Is it rational when threatened to give conciliatory offers? It seems to me that one could rationally expect more of behavior that is rewarded due to operant conditioning. Thus, trying to back a country into a corner and force them to act submissively often backfires because the government does not want to be perceived as backing down. This neoconservative idea that if you talk tough and back up your threats, everyone will back down is self-conflicting. If everyone follows this philosophy, what you get is war.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
    • nigera

      iran nuclear progam is not alowoud in all the cristan countrs so the US sloud go on iran if i was giving visa to US I WILL TELL THE US ON SEE THE NUCLEAR OF IRAN GOING NIGERA IN THE NOUTH YOU CAN CON ME

      February 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    No doubt it's of national prestige and pride for Iran to go nuclear. But the West suspects the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambition has a military purpose. Due to the lack of transparency for its nuclear program and the absence of trust from its neighbours, Iran would be coerced into giving up its ambition of building nuclear weapons rather than deterred from doing so.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  5. Peikoviany

    The Iranian regime rules by force and wishes to extend its violence across international borders. Dialogue means appeasement. The US and other allies should have gone into Iran instead of Iraq.

    February 8, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply

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