What if Teheran Goes Nuclear? New Carnegie Corporation Supported Working Papers Focus on U.S. Options

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Despite the sanctions recently passed by the United Nations Security Council, Iran’s prospects for becoming a nuclear state are still quite real.  A new series of working papers published by The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) through a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York examines the options that the United States has should Teheran develop a nuclear weapon.

Most discussion--in the media, think tanks, the U.S. government, and elsewhere--has focused on how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability. This is not surprising. Like its predecessors and U.S. allies in Western Europe and the Middle East, the Obama administration has said that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would be "unacceptable." Yet a real prospect remains that efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear will fail.

CFR's "Deterring a Nuclear Iran" Program focuses on U.S. options for containing a nuclear-armed Iran should that country obtain nuclear weapons. The brings together analysis from numerous experts about whether effective deterrence would be possible, what it would require, and what the regional effects of an Iranian nuclear weapon and American deterrence activities would be.

Working Papers:

Deterrence Misapplied. Challenges in Containing a Nuclear Iran
Frederick W. Kagan, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Given the nature and structure of its government, is it possible to contain an Iran with nuclear weapons? In this Working Paper, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Frederick W. Kagan explores the applicability of deterrence—from a historic and theoretical perspective—to the Iranian regime. Kagan concludes that for numerous structural and strategic reasons, it is impossible to assess with any confidence that the Islamic Republic with nuclear weapons could be contained or deterred.

Deterring a Nuclear Iran. The Devil in the Details
Kenneth M. Pollack, Director of Research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

From a military perspective, what would be required for a containment scheme to successfully deter a nuclear Iran? In this Working Paper, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Kenneth M. Pollack presents formal and informal structures requisite to effectively deter a postnuclear Iran. Pollack's robust recommendations take into consideration important lessons learned during the Cold War.

A Nuclear-Armed Iran. Possible Security and Diplomatic Implications
Mitchell B. Reiss, President, Washington College, and Former Director of the Office of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department

How would an Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability affect U.S. policy in the Middle East? In this Working Paper, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Mitchell B. Reiss enumerates several strategic choices that would face U.S. regional allies and the adverse implications for U.S. interests.

Divided They Dally? The Arab World and a Nuclear Iran
Michael Young, Opinion Editor, Daily Star

How would the Arab states of the Middle East react if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapons capability? In this Working Paper, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Michael Young explores the possible impact of a nuclear Iran on Arab governments’ self-perceptions, relations with Iran, relations with one another, and relations with non-Arab actors in the region such as the United States and Turkey. Young concludes that an Iranian nuclear weapon would threaten to drastically alter the regional status quo, empower Iran and its allies, and provoke sectarian reactions from some Arab states.

Note: Contributors were not asked their views about the possibility that Iran may develop nuclear weapons nor about the most effective U.S. policies to avoid that eventuality. Rather, they were told to assume that despite U.S. efforts, Iran had developed nuclear weapons, and they were asked to help assess U.S. options at that point.