Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

TNR Explains Why China and Russia Don’t Mind Iranian Nukes

Posted by K.E. White on February 10, 2010

Matthew Kroenig’s TNR article reads like a review of ‘Confessions of Frustrated, Lonely Superpower’. Yes, a strategic goal to limit American influence undoubtedly plays a part in Chinese and Russian foreign policy. But one shouldn’t discount simple realism.

An Iranian bomb, then, won’t disadvantage China or Russia. In fact, it might even help them. Neither country has hidden its desire to hem in America’s unilateral ability to project power, and a nuclear-armed Iran would certainly mean a more constrained U.S. military in the Middle East. Indeed, at times during the 1980s and 1990s, Beijing and Moscow aided Tehran with important aspects of its nuclear program. While we don’t have detailed information on the motives behind the assistance, we do know that governments don’t export sensitive nuclear technologies for economic reasons alone. Rather, as I show in my forthcoming book, they generally do so in an attempt to hinder their enemies. For example, France helped Israel acquire the bomb in the late 1950s and early 1960s in order to balance against Nasser’s Egypt, and China provided nuclear aid to Pakistan in the 1980s to impose strategic costs on its longtime rival India. It is likely that China and Russia’s nuclear assistance to Iran was partly intended as a counterweight to American power in the Middle East. Although these countries no longer actively aid Iran’s nuclear program, they may still secretly welcome its development.

If any country fails to understand the strategic consequences of a nuclear Iran, then, it is not Russia or China, but the United States. Disproportionately threatened by proliferation, American officials will struggle to convince others to join their fight against the spread of nuclear weapons. They must prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or, if they cannot do that, they must stop Tehran’s nuclear program themselves.

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