"Realism, Strategic Interest, and Moral Responsibility Regarding Iran"

by John Steinbruner

CISSM Policy Brief dated September 2012

A core fact of the Iran situation is that the United States and Israel pose a far more serious threat to Iran than Iran does to them, but none of the respective threats is plausibly decisive. This unyielding reality imposes sharp restraint both on the outcome that can be achieved and on the methods for achieving it. Iran cannot be coerced into accepting inequitable restrictions on uranium enrichment activities, but neither can it resist restrictions that are equitable. Strategic and moral issues underlie this conclusion. With the basic principles set as solidly as they are by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, whoever establishes the more credible adherence to the terms of the treaty will win the critical battle for global support. Iran could not reverse its renunciation of nuclear weapons without compelling reason, and the only reason that would be generally accepted as compelling would be external aggression. In addition, traditional just war principles do not justify in moral terms the initiation of violence against Iran under current circumstances. The burden of proof ought to fall under these circumstances on those asserting that Iran is an implacable enemy, but that change of attitude is far more likely to be the eventual result of settlement than a facilitating condition.