MELBOURNE – Is Iran really hell-bent on becoming a nuclear-armed state? Or will it settle for nuclear capability, able to make weapons but choosing not to? Does the difference matter?
Few international questions involve higher stakes than these. An immediate concern, if deep pessimism about Iran’s intentions prevails, is a preventive Israeli strike, leading to another major Middle East war – with catastrophic consequences for the global economy likely.
No one should underestimate the difficulty of assessing Iran’s real intentions. Mixed signals from competing power centers don’t help; nor does the recurring contrast between Iranian officials’ usually-strident public pronouncements and often-moderate private discourse. Pessimists and skeptics have plenty to point to in Iran’s long record of obstruction and brinkmanship in addressing legitimate international concerns about its nuclear programs.
That said, too many policymakers and commentators have rushed to judgment, insisting that Iran is irrevocably determined to build nuclear weapons, or that it wants a break-out capability that is just as dangerous.