Two proliferation experts had a provocative piece in the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times, on Wednesday. William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova of the Monterey Institute conducted a multi-year study examining declassified national intelligence estimates (NIEs), and concluded “if one nation should decide to disavow its nonproliferation commitments, there is little reason to expect an epidemic.”
This time, the sky is surely falling. At the very least, the world is at a “tipping point” in the direction of a nuclear armed crowd with far more countries actively pursuing and acquiring nuclear weapons. On this point, Hillary Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ban Ki-moon and John McCain all agree.
This proliferation pessimism often finds expression in metaphors about nuclear dominoes, chains, cascades and waves. In most cases the gloomy scenario anticipates a reactive process in which Iran’s “going nuclear” leads to decisions by other states in the region and possibly elsewhere to follow suit in quick succession.
Such prognoses are often cited in support of arguments for urgent action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. And yet, as was the case with the “domino theory” of the spread of Communism, little evidence is marshaled to support assertions about reactive proliferation.
A review of declassified U.S. national intelligence estimates (NIEs), as well as scholarly prognoses, shows that nuclear alarmism has been a feature of U.S. threat assessments throughout most of the nuclear age.
A new NIE on Iran is expected soon, and its findings are already being questioned before its publication. As covered in Wednesday’s Talking Points, Stuart Eizenstat and Mark Brzezinski have an opinion piece in Politico where they deem the 2007 NIE on Iran insufficiently damning and insist the intelligence agents who compose the upcoming NIE “answer the right questions and get the analysis straight.”
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