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Iran and Enforcing Rules

Matthew Kroenig’s latest call for attacking Iran includes the following statement:

Any discussion of a U.S. attack on Iran is sure to elicit opposition in the United States. But the White House would be wrong to heed the arguments of those who would voice moral objections to such an attack. If the rules that govern the international system, including the nuclear nonproliferation regime, are to have any meaning, they must be enforced [bold mine-DL].

I’m not sure why Iran hawks try to present themselves as defenders of “rules that govern the international system,” especially when they regularly argue for launching an illegal attack on another country in violation of one of the most fundamental rules of the current international system. There is no provision in the NPT or anywhere else that permits some states to claim the right to use force for the sake of preventing nuclear proliferation. The NPT works to the extent that it does only because the states that have accepted the treaty choose to abide by its terms.

Iran hawks aren’t really insisting on enforcing existing rules related to nonproliferation. They want to rewrite the rules arbitrarily and selectively impose them on a handful of states while ignoring more egregious examples of proliferation elsewhere in the world. Even if it were certain that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons in the future (and it is not), it would still be a much more immediate and direct threat to international peace and security to start a war in the name of nonproliferation. It is not possible to preserve international peace and security by starting wars. Write that down. Iran hawks simply take for granted that the rules that all other states are supposed to follow do not apply to the U.S. or select clients and allies. On top of all that, an attack will fail on its own terms, since it will give Iran another incentive to acquire nuclear weapons, and therefore makes a nuclear-armed Iran more likely anyway.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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